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Malaysia enters last 4 of FIH Nations Cup for men

Malaysia complete semi-finals lineup as Korea and Ireland keep their slates clean in FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup.

Canada lost its third consecutive game  while  the former  Olympic and World. Cup champions Pakistan snatched its first point in three games by holding France to a 3-3 draw in the FIH Hockey Men’s Nation Cup in Potchefstroom on Thursday.  In all 21  goals were scored on day 3 as a fascinating blend of attacking and defensive hockey thrilled fans who packed the stands on a breezy day in Potchefstroom.

With three semi-final spots already claimed by Korea, Ireland and South Africa on match day 2, the Pool B match between Malaysia and Japan had the highest stakes, with the winner qualifying for the semi-finals. It was Malaysia who grabbed the second spot, behind Korea, in Pool B with a rousing 5-1 victory over Japan, scoring 3 goals in a span of 6 minutes in a fantastic third quarter display.

Earlier in the day, Koreans handled their business in the first game of the morning, making it 3 wins in 3 with a 6-2 win over Canada to seal the top spot in Pool B. Pakistan and France then played a highly entertaining 3-3 draw, with Pakistan leveling the score in the final minute of the game. South Africa, who were cheered on by the home crowd, played Ireland in the final game of the pool stage, but a close 1-0 loss meant they had to settle for second place in Pool A.

Korea will now take on South Africa in the semi-finals, while Ireland will face Malaysia. In the 5-8 positional play-offs Pakistan will take on Japan and France will face Canada.

Korea came into the final pool stage match knowing a draw would be enough to seal a top spot in Pool B, but with just one goal so far from open play, they came out on the offensive. The Canadian defense held strong and repelled wave after wave of Korean attacks, looking to counter with long passes out of defense. They capitalized on the first big opportunity of the game through a great drag flick by captain Gordon Johnston, to stun Korea. But Korea took the setback in their stride and kept attacking. Joghyun Jang continued his scoring form from penalty corners, bringing Korea back level after Canada’s first major lapse in defense led to a penalty corner in the 27th minute.

It was all Korea in the second half as they scored 5 unanswered goals through two penalty corners via Joghyun Jang and Hyeonhong Kim, a penalty stroke won and converted by Byungjin Jeon and two cracking open play goals by Jungjun Lee and Inwoo Seo to put the game beyond Canada’s reach. Canada added a late goal from another Gordon Johnston penalty corner, but it was little more than a consolation.

Joghyun Jang, the leading scorer in the tournament with 5 goals, was asked about his team’s performance thus far and said: “It’s good to get out of the pool stage with no hiccups, against some tough opponents. We will look to carry forward that momentum into the semi-final.”

France and Pakistan came into the match with nothing to gain, having missed out on semi-final qualification already, but both teams also had nothing to lose. So the viewers were treated to an end-to-end match of hockey with neither team looking to play cautiously.

Pakistan opened the scoring through a terrific open play goal in the 9th minute by Abdul Rana, but France struck back inside three minutes with a fantastic open play goal of their own, scored by Pieter van Straaten. Pakistan struck again before the interval, as a shot by Afraz looked to have been well saved by French keeper Arthur Thieffry, but the shot had enough power to still trickle into the goal as Thieffry failed to pull it back.

Pakistan started the second half on the front foot, but missed a couple of great scoring opportunities and France made them pay by equalizing through a smart deflected goal by Noé Jouin. Both teams continued to play at a breakneck speed and while plenty of chances were created by both teams, most lacked the finishing touches. With less than 3 minutes left on the clock, France were presented with a golden opportunity through a penalty corner, and François Goyet stepped up and put France in the lead. Pakistan refused to throw in the towel and scored from a penalty corner of their own through Arbaz Ahmad, with just 40 seconds left on the clock.

Abdul Rana who opened the scoring for Pakistan was chosen as the player of the match. Asked about what the result means for his young team, Rana said: “I think this is a great result for us. France were the red hot favorites before the tournament so a competitive performance against them is good for us. It’s great exposure for our young players to compete against European teams and I think our future is very bright.”

 The Malaysia vs Japan match was effectively a quarterfinal, as the winner would be guaranteed to advance into the semi-finals, and both teams absolutely came flying off the blocks. Malaysia took the lead in the 2nd minute through Najib Hassan, but Japan were back level within two minutes of going down, with Kosei Kawabe getting on the scoresheet for the first time in the tournament. The pace of the game slowed down after the early goals, but picked up pace once again as Malaysia retook the lead from a Aminuddin Muhammad penalty corner. Both teams created chances, with each team winning 2 penalty corners each in the final 5 minutes of the half, but the defensive units of both teams held their ground and Malaysia took a one goal lead into the interval.

The onus to get back into the game was on Japan in the second half and as they committed more players to attack, Malaysia exposed the space behind their defense and scored three goals in the third quarter through Faizel Saari, Ashran Hamsani and a second in the game for Najib Hassan. The burst of 3 goals in the 3rd quarter ended Japan’s hopes of making a comeback, and even though they had their chances, Malaysian defense held them at bay and sealed a comfortable 5-1 win and a spot in the semi-finals.

Malaysian keeper Hafizuddin Othman was awarded the player of the match for his dazzling performance in the goal, especially from penalty corners, where the team did not concede a single goal despite 9 Japanese attempts. Asked about winning the player of the match as a keeper, which isn’t a frequent occurrence, Othman said: “It is good to win the match. The individual recognition as player of the match is good, but it was more important to win today to make the semi-finals and we did that.”

 Ireland and South Africa met in the final pool stage match of the FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup South Africa 2022 with only the top spot in Pool A and bragging rights up for grabs; both teams having already qualified for the semi-finals.

The pace of the game suffered as neither team could consistently maintain momentum through the match. The fierce physical nature of the game meant players were constantly on the edge and tough tackles kept flying in as tempers flared. A total of 6 cards were handed out to the two teams through the game, with South Africa on the receiving end of 3 green cards and one yellow card and Irish players receiving one green and one yellow card as well.

Ireland scored early in the first half through Shane O’Donoghue, who has now scored a goal in all three games, and that lead took them all the way through to the final whistle, thanks to a terrific defensive performance by the entire team.

Player of the match Shane O’Donoghue, speaking after the game, said: “It was a heated battle between two really competitive teams. Our defense handled their purple patches really well and we can take this momentum into the semi-finals.”

 

 

Prabhjot Singh