Kuantan (21 Oct, 2016): Malaysia Tigers continued to roar in the QNET 4th Asian Champions Trophy with a 5-1 mauling of China at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium in Kuantan today.
For the second time in two days, the Malaysians displayed an all-round understanding performance and now lead the table standings with six points with India and Pakistan closely behind in second and third spots. Haziq Samsul scored two penalty corner goals from rebounds after Mohammad Razie Rahim’s powerful flicks in the 6th and 20th minutes were denied entry by a fortified China’s defence but goalkeeper Wong Hongyu could do little in the counter attack.
The Malaysians were up 3-0 two minutes later via a Fitri Saari reverse stick shot just inside the semi-circle from the left that sizzled past Wong. It was one of the best goals the 2,000 fans here have seen in two days of the tournament.
China, ranked 18th in the FIH World Rankings, were far from beaten and showed strong fight back in the third quarter. Wong Bowen broke loose inside the 14th-ranked Malaysian territory and sneaked the ball past veteran and most senior goalkeeper S. Kumar to reduce the deficit 3-1 two minutes after the interval.
The host, needing as many goals to stay close to India who defeated Japan 10-2 in Thursday’s opening encounter, earned their fourth penalty corner in the 37th minute and rode on the superb form of Shahril Saabah for a 4-1 lead before forward Firhan Ashari stepped on the pedal with a field goal six minutes to the end to make it 5-1.
Stephen van Huizen’s Malaysia Tigers will next play Japan on Sunday.
“I am happy with the three points. It does not matter if we are not scoring directly from penalty corners as long as we score. But there are still areas that we need to improve in terms of individual performance,” said Van Huizen.
“There is no doubt that China is a young and inexperienced side but these players will surely get better and better in the next matches. We have to credit them for giving us a fight along the way,” he added.
In an earlier match, Abdul Khan restored Pakistan’s pride with a penalty corner goal – coming just 28 seconds remaining to the hooter– as the two-time champions stayed in the race for the semifinals with a 1-0 win over his Korea in this fourth edition.
The Koreans arrived in the Asian Champions Trophy after missing the 2012 and 2013 editions and played their first match today while the Pakistanis stepped on the blue pitch still reeling from the 2-4 defeat against Malaysia on Thursday.
“Today we definitely made a good comeback into the tournament after losing to Malaysia. Had we lost this match too it would be very difficult to stay in the tournament,” said Pakistan head coach Khawaja Junaid.
“We had good ball possession and so did the Koreans but the strong defence from both sides made it difficult for any team to score. The difference between today’s game and that against Malaysia on Thursday is my players kept their emotions intact and played a far better tactical game,” added the former Pakistan Olympian.
Pakistan takes a break on Saturday in preparation for the much hyped-up match against neighbors and traditional hockey rivals India on Sunday.
The Koreans had six penalty corners throughout the match against Pakistan’s three but it was Abdul Khan’s late strike that made all the difference following a video referral call by skipper Ahmad Fareed after the ball had struck Lee Daeyeol’s leg and the umpire’s decision went in Pakistan’s favour.
Korean hockey consultant and head coach, Paul Lissek, though dismayed by the outcome of first match in the Asian Champions Trophy, is looking at winning scores in the remaining matches against India on Saturday, China (24 Oct), Japan (26 Oct) and Malaysia on 27 Oct before the 29 Oct semi-finals.
“This is our first game and the result did not go to our expectation. It is not the end of the tournament for us. When you cannot score in 59 minutes we must go and do all the opposite. The players should have defended. I would have accepted a draw.
“That was okay as we were against a tough team with lots of international experience. We will do our best to recover against India tomorrow,” said the German, adding that their mission here is to qualify for the semifinals but good results in pool matches matter most.
Results: Malaysia 5 China 1; Pakistan 1 Korea 0.
Saturday (22 Oct, 2016): India v South Korea (6,30pm); China v Japan (8.30pm).
Sunday (23 Oct, 2016): India v Pakistan (6.30pm); Malaysia v Japan (8.30pm).