Kuala Lumpur (19 January, 2017): Three goals in the last 22 minutes of play gave Malaysia a deserving 3-0 victory over Thailand and a place in the semi-finals of the Women Hockey World League Round 2 at the Tun Razak Stadium here on Thursday.
The Malaysians, ranked 21 in the FIH Hero World Rankings, are now a step closer to the Hockey World League Round 3 played either in Cape Town, South Africa or in Belgium in June. They go up against World No 15 Italy in Saturday’s second semi-finals tie whilst Ireland meets Wales in the first encounter.
Malaysia Tigress head coach. K. Dharmaraj’s biggest fear of the Thais ‘parking the bus’ was realised early in the game as the host struggled to get past a defensive Thailand adamant in boosting its own chances in this quarterfinal match.
“When we could not score from the many opportunities it got us worrying and under pressure to win this tie badly. Even by a single goal will do. It is a knockout stage and we have to move forward. The girls played a great game but we just could not get the early goals against Thailand and that was the only problem,” said Dharmaraj at a post-match press conference.
“We had six penalty corners but once we switched to set pieces we saw the goals coming. The girls had a great game. They kept the pressure on the Thais till the end. And you have to give credit to Thailand for giving us a good match. They are a good side and are playing much better now than in the last Southeast Asian Games,” he added.
After a scoreless first half, Tigress team captain Siti Noor Amarina Ruhaini lifted the spirit in the Malaysian camp with a 38th minute penalty corner goal after two failed attempts. And with four minutes remaining on the clock, Norazlin Sumantri unleashed a powerful shot past goalkeeper Siraya Yimkrajang to go 2-0 up which clearly gave hope of a Malaysian victory.
Drag-flick specialist Nuraini Rashid, however, made it a memorable night for the fans with a penalty corner strike in the last few seconds of the match that snuffed out any chance the Thais had of making a quick comeback.
The Thais, ranked 31 in the world, took the game to their more illustrious Malaysian opponents with optimism and full of confidence. They had a best chance of scoring in the 19th minute but Tikhamporn Sakunpithal shot wide from the only penalty corner earned in the match.
Tournament favourites Italy did not lift their foot off the pedal en route to a 7-0 victory against Hong Kong in the quarter-finals. The Italians got off to the best of starts against Hong Kong as Valentina Braconi scored a brace with field goals in the second and 11th minutes before returning in the 56th minute to notch her hat-trick.
Hong Kong tried their best to get back into the match but Italy’s structure and attacking flair did not falter throughout. The Italians continued to stay on top in the second half with goals from Francesca Bendinelli, Dalila Mirabella, team captain Chiara Tiddi and Eugenia Mastronardi.
Ireland, ranked world No16, also confidently strolled into the semi-finals with an emphatic 10-0 win over Singapore. The Irish had on Tuesday defeated Hong Kong by the same margin in their final Pool B match.
The Green Army dominated possession but found it difficult to make any headway earlier on as the Singaporeans had packed the entire team in the circle at every opportunity the Irish had in scoring.
It took the brilliance of Naomi Carroll to score the first goal in the 7th minute, Rebecca Barry doubles the lead off a penalty corner one minute to the end of the quarter and Anna O’Flanagan scored the third in the 22nd minute from an impressive field goal.
However, double strikes from Roisin Uptown – her third international goals, via penalty corners (23rd and 25th minutes) gave the Irish a 5-0 lead moving into the third quarter.
The flood gates open wider in the second half as both Anna and Roisin produced another round of patience performance to score penalty corner and field goals.
It was Anna’s 10th goal in the tournament and Roisin’s 50th international goal which puts the duo amongst Ireland’s top goal scorers of the tournament so far. Nicola Daly and team captain Kathryn Mullan rounded up the day with two field goals.
Speaking after the victory, head coach Graham Shaw, said: “Today was all about getting the result. It’s very difficult to play hockey against a team with all 11 players inside the circle. We’re looking forward to the semi-final now against Wales on Saturday.”
Wales survived a late charge from Kazakhstan to prevail 2-1 winners. Joanne Westwood fired Wales ahead in the 19th minute via a penalty corner but the Kazaks, who lost 13-1 to Malaysia in a Pool B match on Tuesday, equalised through Syambat Sabazova’s penalty corner in the 41st minute.
As the match headed into a shootout with four minutes remaining before the buzzer, Wales dug deep into its reserves to earn a penalty corner and Leah Wilkinson made sure of victory and a place in the semi-finals.
Singapore, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and Thailand are now reduced to featuring in the 5-8th classification matches on Friday. The Singaporeans go head to head against Kazakhstan and Hong Kong plays Thailand.
Results – Quarterfinals: Malaysia 3 Thailand 0; Ireland 10 Singapore 0; Italy 7 Hong Kong 0; Wales 2 Kazakhstan 1
Friday (20 January, 2017) – 5-8th Placing: Hong Kong v Thailand (6.15pm); Kazakhstan v Singapore (8.30pm)
Saturday (21 January, 2017) – Semi-finals: Ireland v Wales (6.15pm); Malaysia v Italy (8.30pm).