IPOH - Malaysia made heavy weather of their crucial tie against Pakistan in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh. They weathered a torrid last quarter to defend a 3rd minute goal from skipper Razie Rahim. While Malaysia are still mathematically in with a chance of making the final, it looks highly unlikely with the results tonight.

Malaysia will now need to beat India by a massive eight goal margin to make it to the final. India can book their place in the final with a simple win over Malaysia on Thursday. Malaysian coach said that Malaysia does not stand a chance to qualify for the final, even if they beat India on Friday, because of the huge goal difference. “Let’s just play a good game against India,” he added. A draw in that match will see New Zealand qualifying for the finals against Australia.

Even if Malaysia fail in the match against India, they are likely to qualify for at least the third placing match. Their closest rival Canada, are not expected to beat the Aussies in their last preliminary match.

The 1-0 win over Pakistan was Malaysia’s first since the 2013 World League semi-finals in Johor Bahru. Stephan added that the team showed determination to deny Pakistan from scoring an equaliser “At times, there were good plays and bad plays. We scored one penalty corner and maintained the lead,” he said.

Malaysia started off on an impressive note when they took the lead in the third minute of the game. In their first circle penetration, the hosts managed to force an infringement inside the D and earn their first penalty corner.

Skipper Razie Rahim was unchallenged as the Pakistani runners were slow to react. Razie had all the time to slam the ball pass a hapless Imran Butt for his fifth goal of the tournament. Both sides were creating the chances to score but were let down either by their poor finishing or being foiled by the defenders on either end.

Pakistan’s Ahmad Ajaz was given a glorious chance to put his side level in the 33rd minute. He was put through by Mehmood Rashid into the D. With only Malaysian keeper Hairi Abd Rahman to beat, the Pakistani forward bungled his two attempts.

Both sides were also unable to make the penalty corners awarded to them count. Pakistan failed to convert two of their attempts while Malaysia their third in the quarter. The final quarter was all Pakistan. Their players were running themselves down in search of an equaliser. The reigning SAF Games champions were unlucky not to have salvaged at least a draw.

They were presented with numerous chances with the Malaysian defence in tatters but just could not find a way past Hair Abdul Rahman. Hairi was picked as the Man of the Match for playing a sterling role in keeping Malaysia in the game. “We were determined on winning the match and am glad that I played a part in the win. We told ourselves one day before the match that we must beat Pakistan.”

Hairi, 26, who only won his second cap today said he hopes to be fielded against India as first choice keeper Hafizuddin Othman is down with high fever.

Japan restricted favourites Australia to a 3-1 win in their preliminary round match. With Australia having already qualified and Japan occupying the bottom of the table, this match had no bearing on the tournament progress. Australia chose to rest several key players in the starting line-up, and were up against a defensive Japanese outfit.

It took time plenty of probing before being able to prise open the Japanese defence. “We wanted to keep our structure and maintain our formation against them. It was not about scoring but creating the space according to our game plan,” said Australian coach Graham Reid.

Defending champion New Zealand eked out a 2-1 win over India to keep their slim final chances alive. India, whose last appearance in the final was in 2010, can make the final if they beat hosts Malaysia in their final group match on Friday. India had shared the title with Korea in 2010 after the final match was rained out.

New Zealand’s coach Colin Batch said that they had managed their game well today and keeping possession was the key in today’s match. “In international hockey, possession is important. We allowed them to come back in the third quarter but we bounced back. Today was a little bit hotter compared to our last match on Tuesday. You can feel that on the ground,” he commented. But Batch knows that it is going to be a 48 hours of waiting to see whether they can qualify for the final.

“We have completed our games and now it is a wait and see to know our fate in the classification matches. It is not in our hands anymore. But the two days break will allow us to get ready for the match on Saturday,” he added.

STANDINGS

Pos Team Played w D L Points

1 Australia 5 5 0 0 15

2 New Zealand 6 3 2 1 11

3 India 5 3 0 2 9

4 Malaysia 5 2 2 1 8

5 Canada 5 1 2 2 5

6 Pakistan 5 1 0 4 3

7 Japan 5 0 0 5 0

Results

Malaysia 1-0 Pakistan

Australia 3-1 Japan

New Zealand 2-1 India