May 3, 2014


Having eliminated  New Zealand, the hot favourites, Malaysia’s head coach K. Dharmaraj is bracing for another roller-coaster but plutonic battle against Canada in the semi-finals of the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium today.

Though he professed to have a rather intimate knowledge of the Canadians having met five times in the last three months, the latest being the narrow 4-3 win in a Group B preliminary round match on Tuesday, Dharmaraj says the situation is totally one of a different kind going into the semi-finals.

“As much as we have good knowledge of Canada, it goes the same way for them too. They know us just too well and I don’t think it is really going to serve of any advantage to us or to them,” said Dharmaraj, whose reputation as a strategist took an upscale reading following Malaysia’s sensational victory over the Black Sticks who were favoured to muscle their way to the final of the Champions Challenge 1 in Kuantan.

“It just boils down to how we play on the pitch. It is going to be a very challenging match against Canada. I am not really looking into any key players in the Canadian side that we have to watch out for. What matters most to me is how we manage our game against them and get the desired results,” he added.

The Canadians have scored 12 goals leading up the quarterfinals stage – 12 coming from field goals and three off penalty corners. They have a formidable forward line with skipper Scott Tupper (3 goals), Matthew Guest (2), Gabriel Ho-Garcia (2), Iain Smythe (2), Philip Wright (2) and Taylor Curran (1 goal) causing most of the damage against the opposition.

While Malaysia entertains Canada, Ireland’s ‘Green Machine’ has an equally tough task against Korea, ranked world No 7, in the second semi-finals match.

The coach, however, acknowledged that New Zealand’s exit after the quarterfinals stage of the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 has in a way lifted the ‘heavy burden’ on all four teams in the semi-finals stage of the tournament.

 World rankings, said Dharmaraj, may not have any bearing at all in this tournament as even Ireland, ranked at world No 15, played extremely well against New Zealand in the opening Group A match last week before going down 2-1. The Irish also lost to Poland by a similar margin and defeated Japan 1-0. In the quarterfinals, the Green Machines outclassed France 3-0 on penalties (full time 2-2).

The winner of this edition of the Champions Challenge 1 will gain automatic qualification to the 2016 Champions Trophy in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“New Zealand is the most respected team here and is a very strong side. Perhaps we have done ourselves and the other semi-final contenders a big favour. It has opened the door for Malaysia, Canada, Ireland and Korea of a shot at the title. We have to think positive and move forward,” he lamented.   

Canadian head coach Anthony Farry and skipper Tupper also shared Malaysian coach Dharmaraj’s sentiments when they said the atmosphere at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium invites both teams to play their level best. 

“We played Malaysia a lot in the past, so we know a lot about them,” says Farry. “This will be a great opportunity for us to play in front of a big crowd and we are certainly looking forward to a good result that we hope will favour us.”

Tupper agrees: “We are so excited to play Malaysia because of the crowd support. It does help us in a way. We are very motivated in this kind of atmosphere.”
The Canadians, however, will take on Malaysia without Sukhi Panesar who was red carded against Poland on Thursday. Sukhi has been suspended for one match.

The second semi-final between Ireland and Korea has also drawn lots of excitement among the fans here which has seen the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium turned into a carnival since the start of the tournament.

“We are looking forward to the match as we don’t play against Asian opponents very often. This will be a different style of playing we need to get used to,” says Irish captain John Jackson. The Green Machine reached the top four thanks to a 3-0 penalty shoot-out victory over European rivals France.

Irish goalkeeper David Harte, who kept a clean sheet in the penalty shoot-out, was adjudged Man of the Match.

“Ireland has a strong defence. Their goalkeeper David (Harte) is one of the best keepers in the world,” admits Korea coach Shin Seok Kyo. “But hopefully we can win this match and make the final.” The Asian champions defeated Japan 5-1 in the quarterfinals with a hat-trick from Jang Jong Hyun who was named the Man of the Match.

#CC1 #FIH #MHC #ShekhinahPR 

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