GOLD COAST: It has become a habit of late for the national hockey team to lose by huge margins to World No 7 England. On Friday, World No 12 Malaysia will be out to make amends for the previous defeats when they face England in their opening Pool B match at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre. With a semi-final spot being a target, Stephen Van Huizen’s side must finish top two in their group, also comprising sixth-ranked India, Pakistan (World No 7) and Wales (World No 24), to progress into the medal round. As suggested by their rankings, Asian champions India and England, who finished second behind Australia in the Azlan Shah Cup last month, are the frontrunners for the semi-final spots.
Pool A comprise six-time champions Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Scotland. Malaysia have only defeated England twice in the last 10 meetings. England hammered the Asian giants 7-2, 4-1, 7-3 and 8-1 in their previous four meetings. The statistics only take into account matches in tournaments. Van Huizen’s side campaign could be hampered by the absence of five regulars in goalkeeper S. Kumar, defenders Izad Hakimi Jamaluddin and Faiz Helmi Jali, midfielder Marhan Jalil and forward Nik Aiman Nik Rozemi. Veteran Kumar is serving a provisional suspension for a doping offence while Faiz Helmi has opted out to focus on studies.
The others are nursing injuries. The team have able replacements but their hopes of making the semi-finals will largely depend on whether Kumar’s replacements in Hafizuddin Othman and Hairi Abdul Rahman can step up and shine. However, other teams should not write off Malaysia as Van Huizen’s side have shown that on their day they can beat top sides, a fact proven by their impressive 2-1 win over Olympic champions Argentina in the Azlan Shah Cup. National captain Sukri Mutalib said the aim against England will be to minimise mistakes in all aspects. “England are fast and skilful, and they will punish us if we make mistakes. We also need to be alert when they are attacking our semi-circle.
“We also cannot be wasteful in attack as chances will not be many. If we can tighten up the minor aspects, I believe we can earn a good result,” said Sukri.Malaysia are using the Commonwealth Games to prepare for the Asian Games and the World Cup later this year, but a good outing in the Gold Coast will boost their confidence in both competitions. Several teams have brought experimental sides to the Commonwealth Games, and Malaysia may surprise the form book and win a medal. For the record, Malaysia won silver and bronze at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur and 2006 (Melbourne) editions.- NST