India face Malaysia to book final berth in Azlan Shah hockey

Ipoh (Malaysia): An inconsistent Indian team would need to come up with their A-game as they take on Malaysia in a must win contest in their final league fixture of the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament here on Friday.

A win against New Zealand in their last match would have helped India go through to the final with a game to spare. But now that they came out second best against the Kiwis (2-1) on Wednesday, they have to beat the hosts.

India have been far from impressive in the ongoing campaign, except for a 5-1 triumph over arch-rivals Pakistan. If they win, India would have to face the mighty Australians in the final scheduled to be played on Saturday.

Such has been the dominance of world champions Australia that they have won all their league games in the lead up to the final.

On head to head encounters, India have a little edge over Malaysia, but the hosts would want to take confidence from the fact that they had beaten the Asian Games champions during last year’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at the same venue.

India, however, had avenged the loss at the World League Semi-finals in Antwerp last year where they had notched up a 3-2 victory.

Malaysia’s approach to the game will be interesting to see. They need to beat India by at least seven goals to book a place in the final. Anything less and they would have to play for the bronze medal and New Zealand who are ahead in terms of goal difference will face off against Australia in the final.

Now, whether they will go for an all out attack exposing the defence is a question that will be clogging the head of coach Stephen van Huizen and his players.

India coach Roelant Oltmans is wary of the inconsistency that the outfit has shown but says they are keen on making the final.

“We’re keen on making it to the final, but for getting there we need to produce a good game of hockey against Malaysia tomorrow,” Oltmans said.

“Malaysia have exhibited some good hockey, but were unlucky not to get better results.”

His counterpart van Huizen is presently worried about his captain Razie Rahim. The playmaker has been Malaysia’s key to success in the competition, but has injuries on his lip and hands.

“We’ll give it our best and only then look at where we finish,” van Huizen said about Malaysia’s chances of making it to the final.