Malaysia will be a hunted team in the hockey event at the Asian Games, which starts on Saturday. National coach Stephen van Huizen said that they have now become the hunted rather than being the hunter.
He said this since the team is ranked as the second highest Asian team in the FIH ranking list after India. The Malaysians are at number 12 while the Indians at number five. Pakistan (13), South Korea (14), and Japan (16) all occupy places after Malaysia.
“Thus, there is no doubt that the other teams will be out to beat us along with India. We will be a threat to their ambitions.
“In the past we used to chase the teams ahead of us. But we will not have it easy this time. There is a certain pressure on the team to perform but more than that will be the expectations back home.
“I do not see any easy path in Jakarta. All the teams will be out for a good position. For the top teams, there is the bonus of an Olympic qualification,” he said.
The Asian Games gold medallist will gain an automatic berth to the 2020 Olympics in Japan. If the teams fail, then they will have to endure a qualifying process. Malaysia’s best-ever showing at the Asian Games have been the silver medal won at the 2010 Guangzhou Games. The target here at the Jakarta Games is the gold medal.
“It will be not be an easy task. Our first objective will be to finish in the top two in our group. Only then will we look at the knockout stage.
The coach said that the presence of goalkeeper S. Kumar has given the defenders more confidence.
“Despite our ranking there are no weak teams in the fray. Pakistan are the team favoured to challenge us for the top spot in our group. Then we have Thailand, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Oman to deal with. The players are all fully aware of their responsibilities. There will be no let up as we plan to hit the road running when the event starts,” he added.
Besides Kumar the other players in the backline are an experienced lot. Skipper Mohamad Sukri Abdul Mutalib, Muhammad Razie Abd Rahim, Faiz Helmi Jali and Syed Mohamad Syafiq Syed Cholan. The midfield too has also got good players in Mohd Fitri Saari, Muhammad Marhan Jalil, Nabil Fiqri Mohd Noor and Joel van Huizen. The frontline is spoilt for choices with Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin Tengku Abdul Jalil, Faizal Saari, Muhammad Shahril Saabah and Muhammad Firhan Ashari.
In the absence of Muhammad Najmi Farizal Jazlan, who has quit the team, the coach has moved Muhammad Azri Hassan to a more defensive position.
“Under the circumstances. These are the best players for the moment. There are others who did not make it but that is only because the other younger players have shown improvements. We have a squad of 24 players. And the fight for places among the 18 is very competitive. It is good as the senior players cannot take their places for granted,” he added.