Debutants France packed enough fire-power to give Malaysia a shocking 3-2 drubbing in the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium in Kuantan today.
Led by 12 players from the Junior World Cup squad that won silver in New Delhi last year, the French put on a polished performance which silenced the 5,000 home fans.
In other matches, New Zealand survived an early scare before labouring to a 2-1 victory over Ireland, gritty Japan edged Poland 3-2 while the fancied Koreans were held to a 3-3 draw by Canada despite taking a comfortable 3-1 lead.
National coach K. Dharmaraj gave German-based defender Kevin Lim his first taste of national duty in a major tournament while preferring the senior S. Kumar as goalkeeper over Junior World Cup’s Hafizuddin Othman against the French.
Malaysia went on a fast-attacking pace in the first 10 minutes of play but ace forwards Ismail Abu, Muhammad Saabah, Firhan Ashari and Muhammad Baharom were unable to find the breakthrough against a fortified defence marshalled by French goalkeeper Edgar Renaud. Renaud, a 22-year-old and with just six international caps under his belt before coming into this tournament, was in his element denying the Malaysians of any pot shots.
France, however, went on a sudden counter-attack in the 34rd minute which resulted in a goal. Olivier Sanchez picked the ball near the top of the semi-circle, and had only Kumar to beat. France led 1-0 at interval.
Fresh from a dressing room ‘run down’ from Dharmaraj, the Malaysians came on with renewed determination in the second half which saw the hosts nailing down France with two goals within a space of nine minutes. Faizal Shaari found the equaliser in the 41st minute and Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin knocked home the second.
But joy in the Malaysian camp was short-lived as France search for the equaliser turned fruitful in the 50th minute when Victor Charlet weaved his way past Kumar and flicked the ball into goal.
The night turned into another disaster for Dharmaraj and Malaysia when the French earned a penalty in the 64th minute when Kumar was deemed to have deliberately fouled Aristide Coisne who was on a solo mission. Hugo Genestet gave France a 3-2 lead for the first time. Kumar was replaced by Hafizuddin shortly and Malaysia went on the attack once again.
However, confusion reigned for several moments in the 65th minute when Faizal’s shot struck a defender’s leg and claimed a penalty which was disallowed by umpire Diego Barbas from Argentina. It was all over for Malaysia by now.
Both Canada and South Korea returned to Malaysia for the second time in almost a month following their participation in the March’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup invitational tournament. The Koreans breezed past the Canadians 3-0 than.
The side, coached by Shin Seok Kyoe showed signs of good form early in the game with the inclusion of midfielder You Hyo Sik, forwards Yoon Sung Hoon and Jang Jong Hyu - all of whom have passed the 200 international caps mark.
Korea took a 2-1 half-time lead with field goal from Cho Suk Hoon (13th) and Nam Yun (penalty corner, 24th) but Canadian Gabriel Ho-Garcia closed the gap a minute later. Kim Seong Kyu, however, put Korea 3-1 up in 39th minute but that was as far as they went after a sudden lapse in concentration allowed the Canadians to strike back with two quick goals from Matthew Guest (60th) and Taylor Curran (63rd) to level score at 3-3.
“At 3-1, we were holding a very comfortable lead. Our target is to win tonight, stay top in our group for the quarterfinals and we were heading the right direction. I am disappointed with this result. The players lost concentration, became impatient and nervous and this allowed Canada to take a vital point away from us,” said a dismayed Korean team consultant Paul Lissek.
“We play Malaysia tomorrow (Sunday) and cannot allow this kind of mistake. The Malaysians have been playing very well since the last one year. They are on the right path heading towards the World Cup so our match is going to be very difficult. It could go any way,” added the German who had coached the Malaysian side from 2000-2004.
New Zealand head coach Colin Batch named a squad comprising 10 players having more than 100 international caps including defender and skipper Dean Couzins against Ireland who are making a second successive appearance in the Champions Challenge 1, having debuted at the 2012 edition in Quilmes, Argentina.
On the opposite end, the ‘Green Machine’ as the Irish are fondly known, saw newly appointed coach Craig Fulton parading ace goalkeeper David Harte, captain John Jackson and Eugene Magee – three of the most experienced members of the squad with over 420 combined caps between them.
Considered by many to be favourites for the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1, the Black Sticks went 1-0 up just 11 minutes into the game through a masterly combination between Steve Edwards and Arun Panchia, leaving the former with a simple task of placing the ball past goalkeeper David Harte.
However, Ireland looked seeming unperturbed by the early setback, got their act together, and equalised five minutes later through forward Alan Sothern who scooped the ball over the onrushing keeper Devon Manchester to make it 1-1 at the interval.
New Zealand dominated the early proceedings of the second half, earning three more penalty corners which resulted in none until a field goal by Steve Edwards in the 42nd minute saved them the blushes of what would have been a disappointing start to the nine-day tournament.
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