It was another night of high-drama for national coach K. Dharmaraj’s Malaysia in the semi-finals of the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 against Canada before going down 5-4 in penalty shoot-out following a 2-2 draw in regulation time at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium in Kuantan.
The Canadians, who lost 4-3 against Malaysia in the preliminary round, will meet Korea in tomorrow’s final. The Koreans edged the Irish ‘Green Machine’ 2-1 in the second semi-finals. This is the first time in history that Canada reached the Champions Challenge 1 final as their best finish before this was a sixth place in Quilmes, Argentina in 2012.
As for Malaysia, they will have to contend playing in the third-fourth placing playoff against the Irish. Malaysia’s best finish in the Champions Challenge 1 was a fourth placing in 2001 in Kuala Lumpur, and again in Argentina in 2012.
Faizal Saari and Faiz Helmi Jali got Malaysia to a great start in the early stage of the penalty shoot-outs for a 2-1 lead after Matthew Guest failed in his attempt and Mark Person was on target. All that Malaysia need was one more goal to make it 3-1 and storm into the final. That, however, never materialised as Firhan Ashari, Shahril Saabah and Fitri Saari got their acts wrong much to the dismay of the estimated 7,000 fans that came in full force to support the hosts.
The Canadian also had a bad day in the process as only Gordon Johnston could make it count to level at 2-2 following team captain Scott Tupper and Adam Froese failure as goalkeeper S. Kumar produced another scintillating performance.
However, the sudden-death turned into an agonising episode for all Malaysian, including Malaysian Hockey Confederation President, Prince Abdullah Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah. Though Faizal and Fitri kept the Malaysian flag flying, Faiz blow it away this time. Mark, Pearson and Adam cleverly tucked the ball into goal to give Canada a 5-4 victory.
The Malaysia-Canada semi-finals tie had earlier got off to a promise of a Malaysian victory after Fitri earned Malaysia’s first penalty corner in the very first minute of play and Faizal made it count with a well-placed low shot to the left of goalkeeper Antoni Kindler to send wild celebration in the 8,000-capacity Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium.
There was no turning back for the host as they piled on the pressure and by the 15th minute surprised the Canadians, ranked at world No. 16, to go 2-0 up through Ismail Abu.
However, if the deafening sounds of the drums had motivated the Malaysian players, it also did the same for the Canadians who clawed back into the game just when skipper Azlan Misron and his band of warriors allowed complacency to drain in.
Canada skipper Tupper got his players into motion and dominated play for a brief moment. It was Tupper himself who got his side on the scoreboard with a penalty corner conversion in the 21st minute.
However, there was more drama after this as the Malaysian forward line scrambled to build on the lead but fell to near misses while on the opposite end the Canadians also had their fair share of misses against a cracked defence. In one of Canada’s raid inside the Malaysian semicircle, Faiz was struck on the face by David Jameson in his attempt to clear the ball away and had to be treated. The first half ended in Malaysia’s favour 2-1.
The second half turned into a bullish fight between both teams. Canada almost came close to searching for the equaliser in the 38th minute but goalkeeper Kumar was once again in his element, denying Tupper of a chance by parrying the ball over.
But Canada were back to shackle the Malaysian defence in no time and it was Tupper who proved to be a bane when he sent a powerful drag-flick to Kumar’s left in only Canada’s third penalty corner of the night, beating the keeper all the way to level score at 2-2.
Firhan Asaari tried all he could with just three minutes remaining in the match in search of the winner. He bulldozed through two defenders but shot straight into Kindler’s pads.
The Canadians, clearly desperate and frustrated, mounted a last attack on the Malaysian post and were rewarded when New Zealand umpire David Tomlinson awarded two consecutive penalty corners with seconds into the final whistle – giving the Canadians more hope of searching the winning goal. But Tupper failed in both attempts as Kumar stood his ground, forcing the match into a penalty shoot-out.
In earlier classification matches, New Zealand ranked at world No. 6, demolished Poland 6-1, their second win over the Polish following an 8-3 mauling in a Group A preliminary round. France also had the better over Japan by cruising to a 3-2 victory. The Black Sticks will take on France in the 5-6th placing match while Poland and Japan play for the 7-8th placing encounter.
Results – 5th/8th Classification Matches: New Zealand 6 Poland 1; France 3 Japan 2.
Semi-finals: Malaysia 2 Canada 2 (Canada won 5-4 in penalty shoot-out); Korea 2 Ireland 1.
Fixtures (4th May 2014) Sunday: 7th/8th Placing: Poland v Japan (2.45pm); 5th/6th Placing: New Zealand v France (5.00pm)
3rd/4th Placing: Malaysia v Ireland (7.15pm)
Final: Canada v Korea (9.30pm).
#FIH #MHC #CC1 #ShekhinahPR