LONDON: The Malaysian hockey team embarks on a two-match Olympic qualification series with Great Britain that will either end their Olympic drought or keep them out for yet another edition.
Malaysia last played in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Four years of preparation have gone into this team and a top-notch coach (Roelant Oltmans) has been hired to chart their fortunes.
But playing seventh-ranked Great Britain is not going to be an easy task.
The statistics do not favor Malaysia as they have beaten their opponents just twice in the history of matches between the two teams.
But all said and done it is not totally an impossible task.
Malaysia, ranked 11 have been chokers in many tournaments,
The last time being at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta where they could have easily qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
But after three times in the lead, they lost to Japan in a penalty shootout after conceding an equalizer with 13 seconds left on the clock.
Thus the Malaysians need to understand that being good for three-quarters of a match is not good enough. You have to be on alert the full sixty minutes our face the exit ( in this case 120 minutes).
They are also prone to making unforced errors at crucial moments.
All these faults are not new and the team is fully aware of them.
The question remains if Oltmans had been able to rectify them and provide tactics that will allow them to win matches.
There are plenty of match-winners in the team in the likes of Mohamad Razie Rahim, Faizal Saari, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Fatri Saari, and Mohamed Firhaan Azhaari, to name a few.
The team in London is an experienced team albeit with seven aging players.
For most of the senior players, this is the only chance to play in an Olympics as they will not stay in the team another four years.
Penalty corners have been an effective tool for the Malaysians and they must make full use of it.
Thus a more spirited display will help Malaysia.
The players need to seize their chances and go for it.
Oltmans believes they have the material needed to beat the British and his job depends on it.
It is also time for the team to leave the politics out of their task and play as a team to win.
There are also three other qualifiers over the weekend.
The full list of 12 teams for the Tokyo Games will be known by Monday.
Let’s hope Malaysia is one of the teams.