KUANTAN (30 APRIL 2014): World rankings do matter but there will be an exception to this notion when Malaysian head coach K. Dharmaraj prepares his boys for a ‘psychological battle’ against New Zealand in the quarterfinals of the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium on Thursday.
Dharmaraj will throw caution to the wind against the Black Sticks, ranked World No 6, in a mission that could see the Malaysians either make a ‘giant step forward’ or exit from the tournament with pride still intact.
The Malaysia-New Zealand match will kick-off at 2.45pm and this will be the first time the host nation will take the field under the blazing sun in this edition of the Champions Challenge 1.
“As much as we respect New Zealand as the top ranked team in this tournament, I believe we should also look at gearing ourselves positively for a good game. They (New Zealand) are a great team, build around experienced players, and are undoubtedly the favourites here,” said Dharmaraj at a pre-match press conference today.
“But I would also like to believe that as underdogs, if we can get our act working cohesively in all departments, we have that chance of beating them. We have played them in the past and history has shown that we have also beaten New Zealand before,” added the coach who was pleased with the performance of the players in the 4-3 victory over Canada on Tuesday.
New Zealand and Korea, the two top-10 world ranking teams in the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1, and Malaysia, ranked World No. 13, will compete in next month’s World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands.
But the coveted Champions Challenge 1 Trophy remains top priority for now as the winner will gain qualification to the 2016 Champions Trophy in Argentina.
“We created many chances, had our fair share of opportunities at goal against Canada but we have been very unlucky in our last three matches. We were hoping to avoid New Zealand but unfortunately we could not get the three-goal difference lead,” he added.
He lamented that the heat may affect both teams in the quarterfinals but added that two of Malaysia’s six-test matches against China recently were played in four quarters, and that the players have no qualms over it.
Just like the unpredictable weather in Kuantan lately, Dharmaraj is a firm believer that Lady Luck will find its way back into the Malaysian side, beginning with the titanic encounter against the Black Sticks.
New Zealand head coach Colin Batch, a former Australian international who was instrumental in Belgium’s rise in world hockey, said they have much respect for the Malaysians, judging from their performance in this tournament.
“Malaysia is a World Cup team. They played very well against Canada and have been very much motivated to do well at home. This match is definitely going to be very difficult for us. They play a fast game and I would rate it as 50-50 chance for both teams,” said Batch, adding that the sweltering afternoon heat may take its toll on his players but having played twice in such conditions before they would adapt to the situation.
New Zealand will once again be counting on their penalty corner conversion rates, one of their key elements in earlier wins, against Malaysia. They have scored a total of 16 goals – of which 11 were field goals and five penalty corners. Defender Andy Hayward (2), Kane Russell (2) and Simon Child (1) are Black Sticks main drag-flick specialists.
South Korea team consultant Paul Lissek is also bracing for a ‘stormy’ encounter against neighbouring nation Japan in their quarterfinals clash.
“Japan is a good side. They are fast in the counter attacks here and we will definitely not take them lightly. In the World League match in Johor Bahru last year, we took a 3-0 comfortable lead but they came back strongly to level score at 3-3,” added the German, who had previously coached the Malaysian team from 2000-2004.
Fixtures - Quarterfinals – (1 May, 2014, Thursday): Malaysia v New Zealand (2.45pm); Canada v Poland (5.00pm); Ireland v France (7.15pm); Korea v Japan (9.30pm).