PETALING JAYA: Speedy Tigers are no more the nearly men in hockey.
After missing the mark on too many occasions, the superiorly fit Malaysian team buried their final jinx and did it in style to upstage nemesis South Korea with a 3-2 win at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh on Thursday night.
It had taken 39 years and a sixth final for Malaysia to win the elusive Azlan Shah Cup and nothing would have made the team’s success sweeter by beating the Koreans 3-2 at the packed Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium.
It was the Koreans who denied the Tigers glory at the Asia Cup in Jakarta by winning 2-1 in the final on June 1.
The ground-breaking achievement is Malaysia’s most notable international crown other than reaching the 1975 World Cup semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur and winning medals at the Asian Games.
The start in Ipoh wasn’t smooth as South Korea got off to 3-0 win in the opener while a new-look Pakistan held them to a 1-1 draw but those results triggered a positive response from the Tigers.
Malaysia needed to win three matches in three days and they did that emphatically, beating Egypt 4-1 (Nov 5), South Africa 7-2 (Nov 6) and Japan 4-2 (Nov 7), to book their final berth.
National coach A. Arulselvaraj stressed that the game had evolved so much that speed and power were the determining factors for success of a team.
“This band of players are a closely-knit unit and worked hard. Everybody is treated equally and they earn their place on merit,” said the 48-year-old Arulselvaraj.
“This team have the self-belief and the characteristics to go far but they need to keep progressing as a unit and look forward to keeping the same intensity in coming tournaments.
“The ultimate goal is to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics and the players are on the right track.
“Their improvement in power and speed as well as their staying power is not the work of one person but by a team of coaches and sports science staff, medical assistant, physiotherapist and many others. I have to thank their contribution to the team.
“The young players also stepped up admirably to support the seniors. They want to stand up and be counted and their display was a turning point for us and added further strength to the team.”
Arulselvaraj is assisted by Amin Rahim (penalty corner drills), S. Kumar (goalkeeping coach), Tom Drowley (fitness), Brandon Carolan and Azrul Effendy Bistaman complete the coaching team.
Those in the sports science team are R. Devan (medical assistant), Fauzan Sanusi (physiotherapist), S. Aruna (psychologist), Tham Ching Suen (dietitian), Arif Aziz (performance analyst) and Hafiz Jailani (masseur).
“My coaching team, the sport science team – each and everyone of them – are the unsung heroes and I am nobody without their immense contribution,” added Arulselvaraj.
“The players get injured, suffer hard knocks and the medical team have ensured they were up and running for the next match.
“The coaches and the support staff have been working as a team and the same unity among players has made it this success possible.”
Arulselvaraj also applauded the work put in by the young forwards who have stepped up and used the opportunity to show their true abilities.
Leading the group of young players were Shello Silverius who scored five field goals, Tengku Nasrul Ikmal Tengku Abdul Rahim, Azrai Aizad Abu Kamal, Amirul Hamizan Azahar and Norsyafiq Sumantri whose tireless runs and penetrations into the opposition D had made the difference.
Azlan Shah Cup triumph augurs well for the Tigers with most of the teams that played in Ipoh will also compete in the Nations Cup from Nov 28-Dec 4.
ROLL OF HONOUR
Player of the Tournament: Shello Silverius
Top Scorer: Razie Rahim (6 goals)
Best Goalkeeper: Hafizuddin Othman
Man of the Match: Razie Rahim
Fair-play (Raja Ashman Shah Trophy): Japan