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Don’t get carried away

by S. Ramaguru

Excellent job: S. Kumar (left) posing with the World Hockey League Semi-Finals best goalkeeper award at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in London. Together with him is national coach Stephen van Huizen.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian men’s hockey team produced one of their best showings ever in an international tournament in recent years – and that has raised hopes of better things to come.

But before the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) start jumping for joy after watching the team finish fourth in the recently-concluded World Hockey League Semi-Finals in London, perhaps it would be wise to take a step back and see what more needs to do to improve the team.

Let’s not get carried away. The team are still plagued by the same old weaknesses – defensive errors, poor and misjudged passing at times, conceding unnecessary penalty corners, letting in soft goals, and a casual attitude whenever in the lead.

But at least this time, in London, the players have shown the kind of determination and spirit not seen in years.

Not only did the players put in greater efforts to rectify their mistakes, there was also better team work and understanding. Every player stepped up to the plate.

Though they lost the first two group matches – 5-2 to Argentina and 7-3 to England – as expected, coach Stephen van Huizen’s men gave a good account of themselves.

Then came the turnaround – the 1-0 win over South Korea in their third group match. And they then beat China 5-1 to check into the quarter-finals.

It was in the last eight that they hit pay dirt – defeating India 3-2 to seal their World Cup berth.

This is the first time that Malaysia have achieved this feat in the World Hockey League.

Stephen was in no doubt about the turning point to their campaign.

“The South Korean game changed everything for us. That was also the game we had planned to win. So, everything went as planned. The best part is that in all our matches, the boys’ performance-level was high and they worked really hard.

“They worked as a team and I believe we can further build on this,” he said.

Frankly, the watershed moment for Malaysian hockey came after the 2015 World Hockey League Semi-Finals in Antwerp, Belgium. It was also the qualifiers for the Rio Olympics. Although Malaysia failed to qualify for the Olympics, it laid the foundations for the team’s success in London.

Big changes were made to the team, with the most profound being the introduction of more youngsters in the training squad. The MHC also hired former national coach Terry Walsh as technical director and he was tasked with setting up a common structure for the game in Malaysia.

Those changes have paid off big time in London.

But where do we go from here?

Stephen, while admitting that the team needed to improve further, said that they would take it one step at a time as “we still have at least 18 months before the World Cup”.

“I know what the target should be and which way to go, but I have to discuss them with MHC and draw up a training programme quickly,” he said.

“The World Cup is not our only priority. Next year’s Asian Games (in August), which offer an automatic berth to the 2020 Olympics, are also a priority. Then, there’s the Common­wealth Games and the Asia Cup. We need to expose more players and ensure we have a big pool of quality players to choose from.

“There is a lot of work to be done and we need to get started.”

The Star of Malaysia

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