Tuesday March 19, 2013
Losing final in Ipoh means Malaysia still cannot match the elite
By S. RAMAGURU
IPOH: So near and yet so far. Malaysia had one of the best chance to lift the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup but for the fourth time they ended up second best.
It basically means that we are still not up there among the elite teams.
Reigning world champions Australia came with a relatively young team and they proved that their enough depth in their reserves to keep ahead of the teams who played in the tournament held in Ipoh.
In fact, almost all teams came with young players and that sort of made it a level playing field for all.
It was not the best Aussie side seen at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup but psychologically they always seemed to have an edge against team ranked lower than them. Nothing else can explain their ability to win the title seven times and on Sunday with just seconds to go they snatched victory.
They were worthy winners. But then again Malaysia too would have been worthy winners had they won.
The Malaysians played one of their best tournament in the series and their performance was also one of the best in recent years.
But lets us not kid ourselves, the team still have a long way to go. There is no doubt that they have the potential, commitment and the skills.
National coach Paul Revington summed it up: “There is some way to go before the players master the structure and moving forward tactics. But we are heading in the right direction.”
Going by the second place finish in the tournament, the players are definitely heading in the right direction.
There was speed in their play. The seniors provide guidance to the youngsters and they have the ability to score from field and penalty corners and more importantly they do not give up.
This was apparent as they scored last-minute goals in matches against New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan in the preliminary round. And they proved they can stay in the mix for 70 minutes.
Then it was not enough in the final. They still lack the winning mentality and that is an aspect Revington will have to work on. But for starters it is good to know the players believe in themselves, a fact previously lacking.
They still need to improve on their penalty corners and the ability to keep possession when leading. They must stop giving away the ball during crucial moments and making mistakes in the D.
Revington said that he will now look at reviewing the players in the training squad as for the two major assignments in June and August – the World League semi-finals in Johor Baru and the Asia Cup in Ipoh. Both are qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup.
“The timing of this tournament is ideal as now the players go back to play in the Malaysia Hockey League which will provide me the opportunity to re-assess them and also pick new players for the training squad. After that we will enter the final phase of training for the two tournaments.
“We will look at the shortcomings here in Ipoh and work on ratifying them. There are a lot of positives we can take from the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament.
“We played against top ranked sides and the team did well overall. But unless we continue to improve the effort will be wasted,” said Revington.
In Ipoh, Malaysia had 12,000 vociferous fans cheering them on in all their matches and it was a telling factor in their performance.
This year the crowd support was the best in the series. The organisers have done well to renovate the stadium and ensure the stands are all fully covered. The final itself was a class show.
This year’s meet was a resounding success and after 22 editions the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is set to stay as one of the premier invitational tournaments in the world.