Hockey WC: Winless India eyeing full points against Malaysia
The Hague: Yet to taste its first win in the event, India will be up for another stiff challenge when its fragile defence take on Malaysia`s speedy strikers in their penultimate Group A match of the men`s hockey World Cup at the Greenfields Stadium, here on Saturday.
It will be a contest between the two bottom-placed teams in Group A, with India having just one point from three outings while Malaysia is yet to open its account.
But going by its past records and achievements, India will start as favourites and will be under tremendous pressure to earn full points from this outing.
India`s inability to win a match from the initial three outings has brought the team to a situation where a victory over Malaysia is essential to avoid the blushes of finishing at the bottom of the table.
India`s last league fixture is against defending World champions Australia, while Malaysia have the luxury of playing Spain, who have seemed out of depth in this tournament.
India earned their first point from a 1-1 draw against Spain yesterday, which was a disappointment for captain Sardar Singh, who expects his team to overcome the Malaysian challenge.
According to Sardar India played two very good matches against England and Spain, and were unlucky not to have won either of the two games.
India enjoyed territorial advantage against both England and Spain, but could not convert opportunities into goals.
"We`re eager to make that up tomorrow and produce our first victory," says Sardar, hoping India`s strikers would be able to convert the chances.
"We should have had at least two more points from the game against Spain, but now need to look at the next opponent," he said.
India`s chief coach Terry Walsh is disappointed that it has taken his wards three games to earn their first point.
"We`ve got a point. That`s a start, but it has taken us three matches to get there," said Walsh.
"We`ve created enough chances, but haven`t capitalised on them."
Walsh, who took over as India`s chief coach six months ago, said the team "has continued to play well".
"We`re not converting chances and creating many penalty corners, but we must not forget it`s a young team that`s growing in strength," said Walsh.
"Not being able to force many penalty corners also reflects the quality of the defence of rival teams," he said.
"A big concern for us now is not to give anything away in the closing stages.
"In the last match, we were focusing on not making mistakes in the last three minutes, that`s something which pulled us down in the previous two outings," the coach said.
The Malaysians, on the other hand, are without a point from three matches, but playing brisk hockey which have caused plenty of problems to their rivals.
The Malaysian coach Dharma Raj is also ruing the fact that his team has not been able to convert their chances into goals.
It was a victory over Malaysia in the Asia Cup semifinals last year that earned India a spot in the World Cup line-up.
India were the last team to secure qualification for the 12-team World Cup, at the expense of four-time champions Pakistan, who are missing their first World Cup.
Captained by seasoned Azlan Misron, a veteran of 339 internationals, the Malaysian team features nine other players who have more than 100 international caps against their name.
Livewire striker Faizal Saari is among the most opportunistic strikers in Asian hockey. The Malaysians have often proved to be tough rivals for India.
Seasoned goalkeepers Subramaniam Kumar and Roslan Jamaluddin are tough pair, giving the coach the option to pick.
According to India`s chief coach Walsh, Malaysia would be quite different from the three European rivals his team had played so far in this World Cup.
"The Malaysian game would be quite different, that`s the beauty of world hockey," said Walsh.
India had earlier lost their first two group games against Belgium (2-3) and England (1-2).