Rio Olympics champions Argentina pulled off a 3-2 victory over Malaysia to finish third in the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Men’s International Hockey Tournament in Ipoh today.
The Argentinians emerged champions here in 2008 and runners-up four years later whilst the Malaysians have yet to win the title in their own backyard since the inception of the tournament in 1983, despite having reached the final five times.
Juan Lopez, Gionzalo Peillat and Pedro Ibarra scored for Argentina while Joel Van Huizen and Faizal Saari replied for the host.
After a disastrous 5-1 defeat against India on Friday, the Malaysians took the game to the Olympics champions with another round of blast just as they did in the 2-1 victory over the Los Leones (The Lions), as they are nicknamed, in the group match.
But it was Argentina who silenced the 3,000 fans with the opening goal in just 30 seconds. Isidoro Ibarra’s shot rebounded off goalkeeper Hairi Abdul Rahman’s pads and fell near Luan Lopez who steered it into goal.
Two minutes later, Luca Masso had the best of opportunity to double the lead but fell short in getting past Hairi. Argentina, however, earned their first penalty corner in the 11th minute and Pelliat sent a meekly low push to the left of Hairi as the Argentinians celebrated a 2-0 lead.
But the Malaysians rolled back into the game as quickly as they fell behind in the second quarter. Joel Van Huizen steers in a cross from Faiz Jali to reduce the deficit 2-1 in the 24th minute and Faizal Saari converted a 27th minute penalty corner with a powerful performance to hold the Argentinians at 2-2 at half-time.
Malaysian head coach Stephen Van Huizen introducesd Hafizuddin Othman, replacing Hairi in the third quarter, The start of the quarter saw the Malaysians reduced to 10 men for a brief two minutes after Faiz Jali was sent to the sin bin for an infringement. But Argentina failed to capitalise on this situation.
Plenty of attacking from both teams in the third quarter which kept fans on their toes but the defence has been nothing but solid. Faiz receives a green card in the 36th minute and Argentina pushed forward against a 10-man Malaysian side to break away but failed in their mission.
Argentina earned a fourth penalty corner in the 49th minute and Pedro Ibarra’s direct flick was unstoppable as the Olympic champions strolled to a 3-2 lead.
The Malaysians continued the push in the final lap of the match and earned their third penalty corner. Razie Rahim’s drive was cleared by Juan Vivaldi.
However, at the final hooter the Malaysians claimed a field goal but were denied after a review of the video referral. It was a last attempt for the host to level score and push the match in a shoot-out.
WHAT THEY SAID:
Stephen Van Huizen (Malaysia Head Coach):
It was not a very good start to the game as 38 seconds into the game Argentina scored the first goal. We were one-goal down and as we tried to chase but went further down 2-0. But I think it was a good fightback. We were more tight in our defence and played more compact in midfield and got a chance to come back to level 2-2.
Unfortunately we knew that penalty corner is one of Argentina’s greatest strength and instead of Pelliat taking the shot they gave it to Ibarra and he scored.
I am very proud of the players, the way they played today. They left everything on the field and gave everything that they had. We cannot ask for more. Where they are today in their preparation for the Asian Games I think this is what they can give. It has been tough playing six games in eight days but it has been a wonderful experience for the boys.
The young boys have learned a lot. They made mistakes and will come out of it as we prepare for the commonwealth Games in two weeks time.
Rolando Rivero (Argentina Head Coach):
A late goal from the Malaysians could have happened but we were prepared to go the extra length in the shoot-out as it was a situation that could happen.
As we have said before the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is a preparation tournament. We were trying new players. It was a really young team. Considering today match it was very difficult for for us as most of the players that played in the 2016 Rio Olympics did not join us here.
We had two players who were not well today and as such we could play with 15 players as made two changes.
After this we will take a one week rest before resuming our training sessions in preparation for the Champions Trophy in Breda, Netherlands, in June.