(Photo: frank uijlenbroek)

 Faizal Saari is approaching 150 caps for Malaysia. During that time he has earned a reputation as a supremely skilful attacker who regularly gets his name on the score-sheet. The 23-year-old has a potent penalty corner drag-flick, although he has yet to get his name on the score-sheet at this World Cup. 

This is Faizal's first World Cup: Malaysia last competed in the World Cup in 2002 when it was held on home soil in Kuala Lumpar. On that occasion they finished eighth. This time around, the Speedy Tigers qualified by finishing in fifth place at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Joho Bahru. The team is likely to be competing for 11th/12th place following three four losses so far in the competition: 4-0 against Australia; 6-2 against Belgium; 2-0 England; and a closely-fought 3-2 against India.

We caught up with Faizal before the team played their fifth pool match against Spain, a match that Malaysia need to win to avoid finishing bottom of the group. The Malaysian sports star was in a talkative, enthusiastic mood, despite the lack of points on the board.

Question: What are your impressions so far of this Hockey World Cup?

FS: It is brilliant, the environment all around the stadium and the hockey park is great and the daily telecast, covering all the action, has been awesome.

Question: What have been your best moments of the World Cup?

FS: Celebrating the goals scored by my team-mates have provided the best moments so far. Of course I want to get on the score-sheet but I am so happy for Razie (Abd Rahim) and Marhan Jalil. 

Question: What do you think you and your team are learning as a result of this Hockey World Cup experience?

FS: Malaysia has not participated in a World Cup for such a long time that each match is providing a heap of learning experiences. I think the thing that is most apparent is that there is no such thing as an easy game in this tournament. Even the top-ranked teams are finding that the lower-ranked teams are no pushover. Each team is well-prepared and ready to fight for every point.

Question: Which teams have impressed you and why?

FS: Australia and the Netherlands are by far the most impressive teams here. I think the thing that sets them apart is their ability to maintain a high tempo for the full 70 minutes. Even when the seconds are counting down to the end of the match, and they have a good lead, they still chase every ball and are always looking for ways to create scoring opportunities.

Question: How is hockey viewed in Malaysia?

FS: Hockey is a popular sport in the country and we are expected to produce results every time we play. This can be stressful, but we are privileged to represent our country and it is a responsibility I am glad to shoulder.

Question: What do Malaysia need to do to make the next step up in international hockey?

FS: We need to continue to qualify and participate in major tournaments such as this, if not we will be left behind.