Lucknow (13 Dec, 2016): The hallmark of Malaysia juniors, just as the senior team, has always been penalty corner conversions. But this was just not forthcoming in the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Men, Lucknow 2016 at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium here.
Of the 12 penalty corners that came Malaysia’s way in the three pool B matches, only Amirul Aideed Arshad was successful in the 7-2 defeat against the Netherlands and that too from a set piece formation.
The situation was far more downcast against the Belgians which the Malaysians lost 3-0 after earning four penalty corners and could not put any through. The uneven surface at the newly build Major Dhyan Chand Stadium that was only completed three months ago as venue for the Junior World Cup in the grounds of the Guru Gobind Singh Sports College has not helped much all the teams competing here.
National team assistant coach Muhammad Amin Rahim is concerned with the penalty corner conversion rate in lieu of Malaysia’s upcoming match against New Zealand with Austria and South Africa also battling in the 9-12th classification matches on Wednesday.
“The players tried their best to stop the ball after the push but the uneven surface made it quite difficult. This was clearly evident against Belgium especially in the first penalty corner. The ball just took a bounce. We will focus on penalty conversions during our training today,” added Amin.
Najmi Farizal Jazlan, Syed Mohamad Syafiq Syed Cholan and Muhamad Firdaus Omar are Malaysia’s penalty corner specialist. However, with Shafiq still nursing a shin injury and is unlikely to take the field the job of converting penalty corners will fall on the shoulders of Najmi and Firdaus against the junior Black Sticks.
“If we go by rankings, Najmi ranks first and Shafiq second followed by Firdaus. Our options are limited as Syafiq has not got clearance from the medical team to play. We will not be making any changes in our penalty corner variations and set pieces as it will not be practical at this stage,” added Amin, a former drag-flick specialist with the senior national team.
The Malaysian juniors finished third in Pool B table standings on three points earned from the 2-0 win over Egypt, leaving Belgium and Netherlands direct qualification into Thursday’s quarterfinals.
The Belgians topped the pool with nine points whilst the Dutch are second on six points and the Egyptians are rocked at the bottom with no points.
New Zealand lost a spot in the quarterfinals after the Spaniards claimed a second-place finish in Pool C in dramatic circumstances – a last minute 3-3 draw which was all Spain needed to pip the Kiwis and a spot in the last eight.
The last time Malaysia faced New Zealand was in the Sultan of Johor Cup in Johor Baru in November – beating the Kiwis 2-1 in a pool match and 4-1 in the fifth-sixth classification encounter.
New Zealand started their campaign here with a 1-0 victory over Japan and lost 2-1 against six-time champions Germany before settling for a 3-3 draw against Spain after taking a 3-2 lead.
Meanwhile, England will play Germany in Thursday’s quarterfinals following a 6-0 win over Canada in the final Pool D match played today. Hosts India, Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Spain and Netherlands had earlier confirmed their places in the quarterfinals on an absorbing fifth day of play on Monday..
The match-ups for the quarterfinals will see Australia face Pool B runner-up the Netherlands, Pool D winners India taking on Spain with Belgium and Argentina going head to head and Germany goes into showdown with England.