National hockey coach A. Arul Selvaraj knows that winning the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup for the first time to create history in the 29 editions in Ipoh on Thursday, is not going make his job any easier.
The 48-years-old, former national player, who took charge of the national team head coach from Roelant Oltmans, of Holland, in August two years ago, has had his fair share of critics from day one.
But he has gone about his job with his mission to see Malaysia qualify for the Paris Olympics.
When he brought the team to Ipoh, the knives were already drawn out because Malaysia was the highest ranked team -10th – and while the rest were ranked – South Africa ranked 14th together with Korea, Japan 17th ranked, Pakistan 18th and Egypt 20.
When Malaysia opened their campaign in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2022 on Nov 1 losing 0-3 to Korea, they looked doomed for criticism. Some were already questioning Arul’s ability.
But the team redeemed itself to make the final and even with their victory over Korea in the final, critics will still say Malaysia won the tournament competing with lowly ranked teams.
But Arul is not going to pay heed to these critics.
“I have job to do and the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) and National Sports Council (NSC), know the target set for and what I am doing is a process. The ultimate goal is to qualify for the Paris Olympics,” said Arul.
“I am not offering excuses, but the team here had their constraints like several key players were injured and not available, and while we were here several players picked up injuries in the team as playing three matches in a row which we had to win to make the final, that took the toll.
“And I had in the team where several made their debut international match or only had a few caps.
“But all the players rose to the occasion, showed tremendous fighting spirit and character to overcome whatever setback and perform to their best ability.
“I have an excellent backroom staff who have done a great job and it was a team effort of all, that we have done well here.”
Arul said that teams like Korea and Japan had come with experienced players, while other like Pakistan, Egypt and South Africa who had come with young players, still performed well and were many surprise results.”
As of Nov 7, according to FIH rankings, Korea have moved to 12th ranking, South Africa dropped to 16, Pakistan moved up to 17th, Japan dropped to 18th and Egypt remaining 20th, while Malaysia remained in 10th spot.
But with Malaysia finishing champion, Pakistan finishing 3rd and Japan fourth, there could be further movement in the rankings.
Arul said he is now looking forward to seeing the team improve further in the Nations Cup from Nov 28-Dec 4 in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
The eight highest ranked teams not participating in the Men’s FIH Pro League, will participate in this tournament.
The eight teams from four confederations in two Groups are –
France, Ireland, Pakistan and South Africa in Pool A and Canada, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia in Pool B.
The winner will have a chance to be promoted to the 2023-24 Men’s FIH Pro League.
After the Nation Cup, Malaysia will be competing in the World Cup fr 13-29 in India before the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
Winning the Asian Games in Hangzhou will book the Olympics ticket and failing which will mean Malaysia will have another chance in January 2024 in the Olympic qualifier, where 16 teams will be involved and the top three in each Group qualify.
It is not going to be an easy path buy a bumpy and rough time for Arul.
“The critics are entitled to their opinion. I have a job to do and I will go about to the best off ability and I believe this team has it to reach the ultimate goal.
“They believe in themselves and I have a team who is working very hard to achieve the ultimate goal.
“What was seen is just a tip of the iceberg of what the team is capable of and what extend they will go to achieve their target.
“All credit goes to the players for their attitude, character and above all in believing in themselves in what they are capable of and delivering.
“There are still areas we need to improve on and it is work in progress and the players are hard at work at it.
“I believe in the players and the players believe in themselves and that is what matters most and I will be not be distracted by anything else or what the critics have to say.”
Kudos Arul, his team and his backroom staff for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup victory.
But it is going to be a process with a bumpy road ahead to reach the ultimatum target and will just have to plod on.
Finally Kudos too to the organsing committee of the tournament headed by Perak HA president Sayuti Abd Samat, YTM Raja Eleena Almarhum Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah Al-Marghfur-Lah, president Yayasan Sultan Azlan Shah and Perak HA secretary Amarjit Singh Swaran Singh and the committee members for their tireless work to bring the tournament back after two years because of the Covid 19 pandemic and organise it successfully.