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Games-Hockey Men (Review)

KUALA LUMPUR, 21 Sept 98 (Bernama):

BY David Chelliah

MALAYSIA PROVE SCEPTICS WRONG

Malaysia's performance in the just concluded Commonwealth Games hockey competition is nothing short of refreshing. They have shown that they could go a long way with their fighting qualities and determination.

With the odds stacked heavily against them after their dismal showing in the World Cup finals in Utrecht, Holland,last May, Malaysia showed the big guns in the game that they were no pushovers.

Out of the 11 teams here, seven teams competed in Utrecht and Malaysia was the lowest ranked team among six others here.

Australia, the gold medalist, was ranked fourth, Pakistan (fifth), England (sixth), Canada (eighth), India (ninth) and New Zealand in 10th position.

The others non-World Cup teams were South Africa, Kenya, Wales and Trinidad & Tobago.

Beating Kenya 4-0 in the opening game was very encouraging and this was followed by the 1-1 draw against Pakistan which provided the confidence for Malaysia to share honours with England (2-2) in the other tie.

Malaysia took on a "do-or-die" mission against bitter rivals Canada in the last crucial group match which earned them a semifinal spot. Calvin Fernandez scored the controversial winning goal in the 65th minute.

That led to some ugly incidents in the stadium which were brought under control eventually. The semi-final match will long be remembered as Malaysia brought out their best against India when they overcame all odds to win with a golden goal in the 77th minute by Mirnawan Nawawi.

The match against India did take a toll on the Malaysians and in the final against Australia, they met their match and lost 4-0.

Australia, easily the best team in the tournament, described the gold medal victory as an important milestone in their preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Biggest disappointment came from Pakistan, who lost 2-3 to England in the preliminary round and they failed to qualify for the semifinal.

South Africa created waves with an unexpected 3-2 win over Australia in the preliminary round, the only defeat for the Aussies here.

Credit must be given to Paul Lissek for Malaysia's extraordinary run. The German master tactician single-handedly charted Malaysia's progress The German did not transformed the team within his three-month tenure here but merely put the players' in their rightful positions and instil strict discipline and confidence among them.

Lissek gambled on his variations by shifting players, bringing in newcomers at crucial moments and master-minded game plan against different style of opponents.

The German coach experimented penalty corner set-pieces, tried R. Shankar in defence and Nor Saiful Zaini in right-back, an unfamiliar role that brought a reasonable amount of success.

Lissek's gamble paid off with the results and rookie goalkeeper Roslan Jamaluddin emerging as the team's hero with his excellent saves and fine reading of each matches.

It was the first time, the tournament tested the International Hockey Federation (FIH) new subsitution rule that prohibits substitution of players except an injured goalkeeper during penalty corner attempts.

The tournament itself was managed professionally by the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) without hitches except for some remarks over unfair scheduling of matches by coaches.

Australian coach Terry Walsh claimed that the draw was rigged to Malaysia's advantage while South Africa and England joined the chorus to support Walsh's claims.

However, at the end Walsh said: "I take my hats off to the organisers and the supportive crowds. The quality of matches were of high standard." Despite Malaysia's debacle in world ranking, the crowds jammed up the 12,000 seating capacity stadium whenever Malaysia played and the semifinals and final was not exceptional.

For Malaysia, the road to revival has just begun. The Asian Games is three months away in Bangkok and Malaysia have to get down to serious business soon.

For MHF, coaching and development of the game must be addressed soon as Malaysia have indicated to host the 2002 World Cup finals here

-- BERNAMA



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