Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hockey: When only the best will do

THE Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) had planned to send a mixed team, but coach Stephen van Huizen made a strong request to field the best in the New Delhi Commonwealth Games and his wish was granted. 
Sixteen players, that is all the Commonwealth Games allows a country to register, and with two goalkeepers that leaves a coach only 14 players to make do with in any match.

That means every player has to carry his weight, and top flight fitness is a must for a team to progress to the semi-finals.

"I have no problem with fitness among my players, so we have as good a chance as the next team of winning matches and advancing to the knock-out stage," said Van Huizen.
Malaysia will have their backs against the wall in Group A, as one semi-final slot already has the name of World No 1 Australia written all over it, while hosts India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Scotland will battle for the second slot.

"Actually, the reason I wanted to field the best is because we need top class matches leading to the Asian Games, and our group in New Delhi will provide us with just that," said the coach.

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) gives the host country leeway to play at prime time and also pick their first opponents -- and India opted to play Malaysia in their curtain raiser.

Maybe India are looking to avenge the semi-final defeat in the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games, where Malaysia went on to claim silver behind Australia.

MHF granted Van Huizen's wish to field the best and, hopefully, Malaysia will give their best and reach the semi-finals in a tournament which boasts six of the top-10 countries in the world.

As for the Malaysian women's team, their objective is also to use the Games as a training ground for the Asian Games.

"We are glad to get a chance to play some quality matches which are quite difficult to source for. We will be fielding quite a young side, and the experience of playing against England and the rest should better prepare them for the Asian Games challenge," said Malaysian Women's Hockey Federation secretary S. Shamala.

The Commonwealth Games does not offer any ranking points or ticket to a higher level tournament and that is why most of the teams rather use it to blood new players.

However, a gold medal in the Asian Games is a direct entry into the Olympics.

MEN -- Group A: Australia, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Scotland; Group B: England, New Zealand, Canada, Trinidad & Tobago, South Africa.

WOMEN -- Group A: Australia, South Africa, India, Trinidad & Tobago, Scotland; Group B: England, New Zealand, Canada, Malaysia, Wales.

Read more NST

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