It was hardworking and determined performance to down an equally determined Japan but national coach A. Arul Selvaraj underlined that the job is not yet.
It was an exciting game at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium, Ipoh, last night, where Malaysia only needed a draw to qualify for the final to meet unbeaten Korea, but it was all system go for the homesters despite having to play three consutive matches.
“This is the new Malaysian team. They are fully spirit, determined, fast, work as a team and above showed teremndous character,” said Arul.
“They fight till end even when we are leading and shows how spirited they are.”
Arul said they wanted to finish off Japan by the third quarter and they did that, but they could have done better in the last quarter although they gave a spirited performance.
“I am concerned about giving away corner and getting cards towards the end of the game. Maybe they were anxious and over excited, but we have to learn to be calmer. Something I will have to work on.”
Arul also praised goalkeeper Hafizzudin Othman for the penalty stroke save in 39th minute which prevented Japan from equalising 3-3.
“I am glad that Hafizzudin has bounced back and showed teremendous character after I taken him to task after our opening game 0-3 loss to Korea,” said Arul.
Goalkeeper coach S. Kumar said that it was the all the hardworlk Hafizzudin has put in training hat saw him perform well.
“Goalkeepers are key man in the team as they keep the team in the game. Hafizzudin many not have been in best in the opening game, but he has bounced back excellently with his brilliant performance after that,” said Kumar the ex-international goalkeeper who had capped 323 and played 1999 to 2019.
“His penalty flick save was a turning point for the team tonight.”
Arul welcomed the two day break before they meet Korea in the final and said that the team is lookimng forward to creating history by winning the champiomship for the first time, but said the players know that it is not going to be an easy path.
Japan’s coach Akira Takahashi was naturaaly disspointed but credited Malaysia for a fine performance.
“We knew we were in for a tough time against Malaysia because they have been improving with every match. But the two early goals put us in teremendous pressure and Malaysia on advantage,” said Takahshi.
“We did well to get back in the game, but the turning point was when we failed to convert the penalty stroke.
“The team has come here with mind set to win the title for the first time and they tried their best. Now we have to settle for at least a third spot when we play Pakistan.
“We will be back and even stronger from this experience,” was Takahshi’s parting words.
Last night, Malaysia got off to a dream start against Japan with penalty goals by Razie Rahim in two consecutive penalty corners in the 8th and 9th minute.
But Japan slowly clawed back to the game to give some anxious moments for Malaysia and eventually scored through a penalty corner set piece when pusher Kaito Tanaka scored from penalty flicker Raiki Fujisma in the 23nd minute despite Malaysian goalkeeper Hafizzudin Othman trying his best to cut him off.
Returning for the secondhalf, and after a pep talk by coach A. Arul Selvaraj, Malaysian immediately got into action to score from a field goal off Aiman Rozemi to put the score at 3-1.
But Japan not to be outdone and wanting to stay in the game scored their second goal of a penalty corner through Shota Yamada in the 35th minute to reduce their deficit to 3-2 and put heat on Malaysia again.
There was tense moments for the Malaysian camp when a penalty stroke was awarded to Japan in the 39th minute.
The penalty stroke taken by Yoshiki Kirishita was saved brilliantly by Hafizzudin, while captain Najmi Jazlan was sent to the sin bin for trying to reason with umpire Shaik Javed for awarding the stroke as Malaysia had already used their VAR earlier.
Boosted by the save, Malaysia fought back even harder to get another field goal in 46th minute through Norsyafiz Sumantri to extend their lead to 4-2