Kuala Lumpur (15 November, 2016): The greatest psychological barrier faced by Malaysia Tigress over the years is slowly but surely chipping away and now chief coach K. Dharmaraj wants his players to start believing in themselves in the face of bigger challenges ahead.
Dharmaraj wants his charges to step into forward mode beginning with the five-match test series between the world No 21 Malaysia Tigress and Olympic bronze medallist and world No 5 New Zealand from Dec 12-18 in Stratford, located in north island, with the same kind of passion produced in the 4th Women Asian Champions Trophy in Singapore two weeks ago.
“Believe in yourselves. That’s what we have been telling the players all along and we can sense changes taking place slowly. They have the potential to play good hockey and it’s only a matter of giving them opportunities against top teams like New Zealand,” said Dharmaraj.
Keeping an eagle eye view as the players pushed through an absorbing physical training programme at the National Sports Council gymnasium, Dharmaraj confessed that the ACT in Singapore was the turning point.
“In the past we have always feared playing against top Asian teams like China, Japan, Korea and India. We were so contented within our ‘comfort zone’ of beating teams like Cambodia 36-0. So the ACT was indeed an eye opener when we played good and hard hockey. This momentum has to carry on against New Zealand. The scoreline, big or small, does not matter. Building their confidence level is far more important.” he added.
In the WACT, the Tigress lost 2-5 to world No 9 Korea who scored three quick goals within six minutes into the game and held world No 9 China to a 1-1 draw for a good 56 minutes only to allow the Chinese to score two penalty corner goals minutes before the final hooter.
They lost to India 0-2 and defeated world No 10 Japan, 2-0 subsequently. It was Malaysia’s first victory over Sakura Japan in 30 years. All four of the Asian top ranked teams had competed in the Rio Olympics in August.
With the New Zealand series taking a big chunk of the team’s training structure, Dharmaraj believes the experience in Stratford will come good when the Tigress stroll into the World League Round 2 in Kuala Lumpur on Jan 14-22. Malaysia will be up against ranked teams Italy (world No 15) and Ireland (16) as well as Thailand (31), Wales (32), Kazakhstan (33), Singapore (43) and Fiji (46).
“Honestly, it was the first time we played Asian top teams in the ACT and against Korea in the first match the team froze in the early stage and then got back. They overcame this fear mentality as results against China, India and Japan proven. New Zealand is world No 5 and when they go into the World League, they won’t fear nor care less about ranked teams as they have had the experience of playing top teams already,” said Dharmaraj.
However, with less than a month for the New Zealand tour, Dharmaraj is hoping for Asia’s No 1 goalkeeper Farah Ayuni Yahya and defender Nor Hasliza Ali to join the tour. Both players are in their final phase of trainee inspectors’ course with the Royal Malaysian Police.
“We have written to the Royal Malaysian Police requesting for their release and hope to receive a favourable reply. Both saw action in the WACT and the New Zealand tour is also crucial in our preparation for the World League,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tigress captain Siti Noor Amarina Ruhani said the ACT experience has lifted the team’s confidence.
“We have learned two things. First is to be physically fit in high level matches as in the ACT and secondly be mentally strong even when the odds are against us. But we did well to come back,” said the 29-year-old Amarina who has 96 international caps.
“The most important things are we should not look too much into rankings of our opponents and do what needs to be done on the field. If we focus too much on rankings we will lose our momentum and also unnecessarily create an atmosphere of fear. This has to end,” she added.