Kuantan (20 Oct, 2016): Faizal Saari made a triumphant return to the senior squad by scoring a brace as Malaysia celebrated a 4-2 victory over defending champions Pakistan in Day One of the QNET 4th Asian Champions Trophy at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium in Kuantan today.It was Malaysia’s second win over Pakistan this year following a 1-0 win in the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy in April at Ipoh.
“It was a great performance from the players today. The rain in the second half gave us a chance to re-group and assess our situation. I told the players the ground will be soggy and we need to make straight passes. Overall we knew penalty corners win the match and both Pakistan and Malaysia had many penalty corners,” said Malaysian head coach Stephen van Huizen.
The match had all the promises to be a classic encounter before the start and the orange-shirted Malaysians, donning a new-look colour introduced for the first time – moving away from the yellow-black striped jerseys worn for many years, got off on a calmer pace.
Pakistan, the two-time champions, was equally absorbing the atmosphere of their second international tournament after a lackluster performance in the Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy.
Watched by an estimated 1,000 home fans, coach Stephen van Huizen’s Malaysian Tigers dictated terms in the 12th minute by earning the first penalty corner in the game.
Drag-flick specialist Mohammad Razie Rahim, returning to the national team for a brief period following a nine-month intensive training with the Royal Malaysian Police Force, cleverly put the ball to the right of Pakistan goalkeeper Imran Butt but it was foiled by a defender resulting in a second penalty corner awarded. Razie packed home a powerful shot but incidentally Firhan Ashari picked it airborne and deflected into goal to give the host the much needed lead.
The Pakistanis, sorely missing the services of the ever-reliable Mohamed Irfan, who was kept back home due to visa problems, equalized six minutes later via a penalty corner through defender Aleem Muhammad Bilal much to the joy of the motley number of green-shirted fans.
A light downpour that turned heavy greeted the start of the second half but that did not stop Pakistan forwards of Ajaz Ahmad, Abdul Khan, and Muhammad Arslan Qadir from maneuvering dangerously into the Malaysian territory and were aptly rewarded with a second penalty corner in the 34th minute and Aleem Bilal converted to put the defending champions 2-1 ahead.
Due to the heavy drizzle the match was stopped for a good 10 minutes and upon resumption, the Malaysians went on counter attack and earned a penalty stroke in the 37th minute after Nik Aiman Rosemi was brought down by Imran Butt. Terengganu forward and substitute Faizal Saari placed a low shot to Imran’s left to draw level 2-2. It was Faizal’s first international goal for the senior Malaysian team after making a return following a six-month absence.
Buoyed by this outcome, the Malaysians went onto the offensive and once again received a penalty corner which midfielder Shahril Saabah successfully placed it into the net as the Malaysians celebrated a 3-2 lead for the second time in the match.
Pakistan were back on trail and earned three more penalty corners in the fourth quarter but goalkeeper S. Kumar was in his element, especially paving away one that was close off Arslan Qadir in the 56th minute.
However, it was the Malaysian fans who celebrated, danced and sang the national anthem “Negara Ku’ when Faizal knocked home the fourth goal with just 19 seconds remaining from goal-mouth melee.
The Malaysians play China while Pakistan entertains Korea in the next match on Friday.
Tomorrow (21 Oct, 2016): Pakistan v Korea (6.30pm); Malaysia v China (8.30pm)