Kuantan (28 Oct, 2016): For Malaysian head coach Stephen van Huizen, Saturday’s QNET 4th Asian Champions Trophy semi-finals encounter between Malaysia Tigers and two-time champions Pakistan is expected to bloom into another thrilling and classic episode.
Van Huizen’s Malaysia Tigers have been enjoying a terrific run in the tournament with a 4-2 victory over the Pakistanis in the opening match last week until India put the brakes on the host following a 2-1 win on Wednesday but as Van Huizen puts it the semi-finals is a new chapter and another new day for both teams to renew their rivalry.
Malaysia finished second in the final table standings on 10 points after holding Korea to a 1-1 drawn on Thursday – three points behind leaders India who play Korea in the first semi-finals match tomorrow (6.15pm).
“Tomorrow’s match is a different ball game than in the pool matches. It’s a one-off playoff and our preparation is different. If the match ends in a draw we have to go into penalty shootouts. Coming into this tournament we had set a semi-finals target but that we finished second in the group is a great achievement but that does not mean anything now,” said Van Huizen.
“The semi-final is a new game. Though we managed to beat Pakistan 4-2 in the pool match they are playing so much better now and have also improved a lot. Everything depends on how we structure our game against them,” he added.
If qualifying for the semi-finals is a great achievement, Malaysia Tigers are also expecting to hear another piece of good news as forward Faizal Saari’s wife is due to deliver their first child any time soon. Faizal has been playing exceptionally well in the Asian Champions Trophy, having scored two goals, and will be a great asset against Pakistan.
“We fully understand his situation, no doubt about that. He is prepared to stay and play in the semi-finals but we will reassess the situation and see how it goes when the moment arrives,” said Van Huizen.
Team captain Sukri Mutalib, a teacher by profession, says Pakistan’s forte, just as Malaysia, lies in penalty corner conversions and that the defence will need to thwart Pakistani forwards from capitalising on such opportunities.
The Malaysians have played Pakistan two times in the last seven months and triumphed in both encounters – winning 1-0 in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh in April and 4-2 in the pool match of the ACT here in Kuantan.
Pakistan head coach, Khawaja Junaid reckoned that cool nerves and keeping emotions in check will be vital cog in securing victory.
“It is going to be a game of steel nerves and mental strength. After we lost against the Malaysians in the pool match, I told the players we need to recover and get into the semi-finals. Now that we have accomplished our first mission, the second will be to keep our heads calm and do the best against Malaysia. It is going to be another very tough battle as Malaysia has a very strong playing structure.”
“They have players with great individual execution who can turn the game around anytime. Like I said, players who have steely nerves will perform well in the game,” he added.
Since the World League semi-finals in Belgium last year, Pakistan has not had many opportunities in playing international tournaments. Tomorrow’s match is just about Pakistan’s 13th international match since 2014.
Fifth-Sixth Playoff: China v Japan (4pm).
Semi-finals: India v Korea (6.15pm); Malaysia v Pakistan (8.30pm).