Kuala Lumpur (1 Dec, 2016): ‘Go show them we are also of World Cup material’.
This is the inspiring message from Dato’ Ow Soon Kooi, vice president of the Malaysian Hockey Confederation and chairman of the coaching committee, to the 18-member National Junior team that will leave on Monday to compete in the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Lucknow from Dec 8-18 in India.
“The players must not think too much of the reputations of their opponents in the Junior World Cup. It’s simply a mind game, purely psychological. I am sure all the teams are also wary of the past reputations of their opponents including Malaysia,” said Dato’ Ow as he watched Wallace Tan’s National Juniors go through the paces in training at the Kuala Lumpur Hockey Stadium on Wednesday.
“Looking back we are of the same material as those teams in the Junior World Cup. We were simply unlucky to go down against Korea in penalty shootout in the Junior Asia Cup qualifier in Kuantan last year and lost the chance to qualify directly,” he added.
In a 30-minute motivational talk to the players, Dato’ Ow, who has seen it all as a player in the 1978 and 1982 World Cups as well as 1976 Montreal and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, told the players:
“Look at this as a second chance, a blessing. Go out there and show the world that we belong here and not just do your best. Prove it to the world that Malaysia has what it takes to beat champions,” he said.
“If you put your heart and mind into it everything is possible. Don’t be afraid to play against team with big reputations such as Netherlands or any other team. We are all the same on the field and it is your will-power (semangat) that will see this team through.”
Among the 18 players in the squad, six have featured for the senior team. They are defenders Najib Abu Hassan, Muhamad Firdaus Omar, Najmi Farizal Jazlan, midfielders Syed Mohamad Syafiq Syed Cholan, Amirul Aideed Arshad and forward Nik Aiman Nik Rozemi.
Najmi was captain of the team at the Junior Asia Cup in Kuantan last year while Amirul Aideed led the SOJC Cup in Johor Baru recently. However, the team management have not decided who will wear the captain’s band in Lucknow.
The Malaysian Juniors are drawn in Group B and face two-time champions the Netherlands on Dec 9 followed by Egypt on Dec 11 and Belgium on Dec 12. Only the top two teams in each group will advance to the Dec 14 quarterfinals.
He also strongly refuted claims by certain quarters that the eleventh hour decision by the International Hockey Federation to invite Malaysia to participate in the JWC following Pakistan’s withdrawal by FIH a few days ago as akin to sending an under-prepared team to Lucknow.
“Just three weeks ago this team competed in the Sultan of Johor Cup. They took a one-week break after that and regrouped the following week for training. They have been in training together all along and were now joined by several players who returned after competing in the Four Nations Tournament with the senior squad in Australia few days ago.
“Prior to that all the players have been playing a lot of international matches in Japan, New Zealand and also competed in the Australian League (AHL). So there is certainly no lacking in terms of exposure and the players have been in training all along,” he said.
National Juniors coach, Wallace Tan, also concurred with Dato’ Ow, and said the team played well in the SOJC and is ready for the challenge in Lucknow.
“Being a national development squad, the players have constantly been in training after SOJC. This invitation has been great news and the players are looking towards this opportunity with so much determination,” added Wallace.