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Shota spoils Malaysia’s night

Malaysia’s hopes of making a brilliant start in the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup took a hard knock as they survived a 1-1 draw against World No 16 Japan at the Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey Stadium tonight.

Stephen van Huizen’s Malaysia took early control of the match against the Japanese with a structured performance much to the delight of an estimated 5,000 local fans.

Placed 14 in the FIH World Rankings, the Malaysians were up against the Japanese who are World No 16. Both teams have come into the tournament with respected credentials recently. Malaysia emerged champions in the recent Hockey World League Round 2 in Dhaka and Japan crowned winners in the Trinidad and Tobago edition – a qualify process for the Hockey World League Semi-finals in June.

But the Japanese have a mission here – to erase the 4-3 defeat against the host in the 2016 edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and 7-2 demolition in the Asian Champions Trophy.

In the run of play, Malaysia earned the first penalty corner in the 8th minute and drag-flick specialist Muhammad Razie Abdul Rahim made it count, placing the ball to the left of goalkeeper Suguru Shimmoto. It was a great start on a cold night for the host.

The Malaysians missed a chance to double the lead three minutes into the second quarter when Haziq Samsul miscued a sitter.

However, Japan bounced back ferociously as the host lived dangerously in the next moments – midfielder Kenta Tanaka’s powerful shot in the first attempt forced goalkeeper S. Kumar to make a darting save while the second in the 29th minute bounced off the keeper’s pads with no takers.

Japan had a fair share of ball possession in the third quarter to win a third penalty corner and Man of the Match Shota Yamada made it count. His powerful drive took a deflection off Kumar’s pads into goal much to the delight of the Japanese camp as they strolled back to level 1-1.

The Malaysians earned a penalty corner in the fourth quarter – three minutes to the hooter but nothing came out of it. Japan was far from finish and came firing from all cylinders in search for the winning goal. Unfortunately, Kumar had his fort well guarded.

The result was certainly greeted with much joy by the Japanese but for Stephen van Huizen’s Malaysia the 1-1 draw means life is never going to be easy against the top ranked teams in coming days.

What the Coaches Said:

Takahiko Yamabori (Japan Head Coach)

I was disappointed with the result as we had every chance to beat Malaysia tonight. There is no doubt we faced a lot of difficulties against Malaysia but I am very happy with the way my players came back to win a point.

We will make some changes in the next match and hope to pull off some surprises as being the lowest ranked team here our oppositions are pretty confident when playing against us. Tonight we proved a point. Treat us with respect.

Stephen van Huizen (Malaysian Head Coach)

I would have liked to get a win. The boys played a good game but we gave Japan too much time on the ball and allowed them to get back into the game.

Both sides had equal chances. We had one goal from five penalty corners and this is an area we need to pay attention. It was disappointing that we did not get three points.

Against Australia tomorrow (Sunday) we have to be focused. We have to create the goal chances and make it count. It is just a start and we can only get better.

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