MALAYSIA 2 JAPAN 1
It takes a strong-minded team to bounce back from a bitterly disappointing defeat one day and win an important match the next. And Malaysia did just that, recovering after going a goal behind to beat Japan and earn a place in the 5/6th play-off.
With so much at stake you had to admire the Malaysians’ tenacity as they shrugged off the 5-4 loss against India and doggedly set about returning to winning ways.
No-one was more relieved than their 32-year-old goalkeeper Subramaniam Kumar who clearly felt he should shoulder much of the blame for India’s stunning victory. “I haven’t been very consistent in the tournament and I felt so bad against India because the rest of the squad were fantastic. It was a bad day.” he said.
“But we’re all feeling a lot better after beating Japan as it would have been a disaster playing off for 7/8th place. They are a much improved team and never easy to beat but we wanted to win so badly”
In common with most teams playing in Johannesburg, Malaysia are using the tournament as preparation for either their Olympic campaigns or Olympic qualifiers. In March they travel to Dublin to try and earn a place at the London Games and their first Olympic appearance since Sydney in 2000.
Two goals by the immensely talented 20-year-old Faizal Saari in a six-minute burst mid-way through the second half sealed the victory after Kazuyuki Ozawa gave Japan a 24th minute lead. It might have been 2-0 minutes before the interval had S.Kumar not reacted sharply to deflect a powerful shot low to his right.
The goalkeeper has made 182 international appearances and works for the electrical company TNB in Kuala Lumpur added: “These games are such an important part of our build up. We’ve set our sights on finishing 5th and maintaining our world ranking of 14th. We’re definitely a much happier squad today!”
CANADA 2 POLAND 3 (golden goal)
Dariusz Kurc, the Poland manager, simply couldn’t stop smiling. His team lost all three of their pool matches but they have gradually improved, finding their best form when it mattered most to beat Canada with what he described as the perfect penalty corner golden goal at exactly the right time in the first period of extra-time.
A switched routine was deftly swept in by the experienced set piece ace Tomasz Dutkiewicz after the Poles had twice fought back to equalise against opponents ranked eight places higher (11th) in the world than them.
Arriving only a day before the event began giving their side no time to adjust to the high altitude of Johannesburg, six players were also missing their luggage. However, despite suffering a couple of heavy defeats they have displayed admirable determination to succeed.
Kurc said it had been his team’s goal to make the 5/6th play-off and stay in the Champions Challenge 1 adding: ”We had a difficult start to the tournament and against Canada we created a lot of chances but they seemed to go ahead and score. We’re very happy with the result especially as it may help our world ranking.”
For a disconsolate Canada squad, it may be back to the drawing board. They meet Japan to try and avoid the wooden spoon but their side has also been guilty of lapses in discipline with the two-time Olympian Rob Short dispatched to the sideline after being shown a yellow card with 16 seconds remaining in regulation time. The 39-year-old should know better.
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