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Exclusive: What Malaysia must do to beat India and book Hockey World Cup spot

It’s been an absolute roller-coaster of a week for the Malaysian hockey contingent in London but they are now merely one step away from actualizing their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 Hockey World Cup.

Confidence has been at an all-time low in recent months, especially after their poor showing at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in April, but the Speedy Tigers have reasonably well at the ongoing World Hockey League semi-finals thus far. After picking up a 5-2 defeat against Argentina in their opening match, Stephen van Huizen’s men incurred a 7-3 loss at the hands of hosts England.

But they responded by bouncing back to clinch a morale-boosting 1-0 win over South Korea, before thrashing China 5-1 to officially book their quarter-final spot. Here is where it all gets tricky. They’ve been paired against perennial powerhouses India, whose bouts with inconsistency makes this one absolutely unpredictable. The last time both teams met, India were one win away from qualifying for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final while Malaysia were merely playing for pride. Somehow, against all odds, the Speedy Tigers came away with a narrow 1-0 win – their only win in the tournament.

Photo Credit: FIH

Ahead of the tricky encounter for Stephen van Huizen’s men on Thursday, we caught up with Jimmy Bhogal – a passionate hockey writer from India, for a lowdown on both teams and what to expect from the match.

“India still has problem with handling the pressure. The game against Malaysia in Sultan Azlan Shah was must win for India in order to qualify for the finals while Malaysia was just playing for pride,” he told FourthOfficial.com

“India succumbed under pressure and Malaysia took advantage of it. This time, the roles have reversed, its must win for Malaysia in order to qualify for World Cup while India being host nation has no such pressure,” he added.

Photo Credit: FIH

Roelant Othman’s men have had mixed fortunes in the tournament so far, though the 7-1 win over Pakistan last weekend, sent plenty of shockwaves around the globe, given that the Indian cricket team were battered by Pakistan on the same day. But the momentum gathered from what was a nationalistic win, wasn’t enough for them to outclass Netherlands as the Dutch ran out 3-1 winners in their final pool match. Jimmy though, wasn’t surprised.

“First three matches that India played were fairly easy, apart from first quarter against Scotland, Indian team did not break any sweat in the matches played thereafter. Pakistan is on a downward spiral and just before they played India, Canada beat them 6-0,” he explained.

“Netherlands was the first biggest test that India faced and yes, Indian team failed that test. India are still not tactically sound enough to beat top teams. Yes we do get one odd results over top team but there has been no consistency.

Photo Credit: FIH

“Since the rule change in Hockey India League, India has been more focused on field goals, and missing the trick on penalty corners. Top teams of the world don’t give you many opportunities to score field goals, so you have to rely on penalty corners to beat them. India needs to do more to be called a world beater and it has to start with penalty corner conversion.”

The Speedy Tigers have scored 11 goals in the competition so far, with Razie Rahim and Faizal Saari contributing three goals each. Tengku Tajuddin has bagged two while Najmi Jazlan, Shahril Saabah and Fitri Saari have all contributed one goal. But as far as Jimmy is concerned, Razie Rahim is the one player India will have to keep a close eye on, alongside Faizal Saari.

“Only threat India has is from Razie Rahim, and his plans. He has been on fire in the tournament and if Malaysian forward line is able to get him penalty corners, if would surely make the game difficult for Indian team. The combination between Faizal Saari and Razie is the only reason Malaysia is still alive in this tournament. If India can neutralize the threat posed by Faizal, then even Razie will be helpless. Goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam has usually played well against India and it will be his job to keep the sharp Akashdeep Singh at bay.”

Photo Credit: FIH

India will head into this one as favourites for two reasons. They’ve had better results in the tournament thus far, and the pressure is very much on Malaysia’s shoulder. And Jimmy himself is inclined to think this is India’s game to lose, given that their forward line has been clicking well in London. We stopped him right there and asked what would it take for the Speedy Tigers to pull off an upset. Here’s what he had to say.

“Its all about taking 3-4 players out of equation. SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh from forward line, Manpreet Singh from midfield and Harmanpreet in defense. Akashdeep and Talwinder are great players in the striking circle but they need service from Ramandeep and SV Sunil.

“Sardar Singh has slowed down considerably and is not as confident with the ball as before while Harjeet is vulnerable as we could see against Netherlands. So Manpreet is the midfielder who has to be kept quiet. These are 4 players who enjoy most possession and are really comfortable with the ball. Keep the ball away from them and Indian team will be under pressure Indian defence is inexperienced with Surender having most caps. So win penalty corners and exploit inexperience,” Jimmy concluded.

What are your thoughts on Malaysia’s chances against India? Let us know by commenting below!

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