The Great Wall stands firm, Malaysia collapse like a house of cards

IN a banter with my colleague, Kongster, hours before the Malaysia-China Group B match, this scribe had said that he will chew the entire Great Wall of China, brick by brick, if the Speedy Tigers fail to advance to the Asian Games men's hockey semi-finals.

Such was my confidence in the Speedy Tigers after covering them for decades to what they are today.

But China made me eat my words when they slammed the semi-finals door on Malaysia.

Malaysia collapsed like a house of cards when world No 22 China, in the words of coach A. Arul Selvaraj, "played intelligent hockey and relied on counter attacks, overheads, long balls and accurate penalty corners".

Arul's team had beaten South Korea twice and China 5-1 at the recent Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai, but when it mattered most, they were limp and played novice hockey with no clear plan in sight.

China were more daring in counter-attacks, and when Malaysia scored two goals, their goalkeeper Wang Weihao was replaced by Wang Caiyu and the latter, with his amazing saves, was responsible for delivering a draw for China and with it, a semis spot.

The other amazing facts are that Malaysia 4 China 4 was the only drawn match in Group A as well as Group B, and China had four wins and one draw to top the table.

Amazing also was that no goals were scored in the fourth quarter, but Arul never attempted to use power-play, where the goalkeeper is removed and an outfield player introduced, on a do-or-die mission.

Amazing because when a draw was as good as a defeat for Malaysia, the coaching set-up stuck with the same routine instead of introducing something spectacular to snatch a win in the final quarter.

And when a penalty corner was won in the final minute of the match, nothing special was attempted, and it went to waste. China went on into the semi-finals of their own Games.

The Malaysian hockey entourage had Australian Olympians Glenn Turner and Kieran Govers listed as assistant coaches, as the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) put their heart and soul into turning this bunch of players into Olympians.

So, no fingers should be pointed at MHC.

The Speedy Tigers need to live up to their name when they play in the Olympic Qualifier either in Oman or in Spain in January next year as only three teams from each qualifier will make the grade to Paris.

It will not be easy, but if one wants to be called an Olympian for life, take the gamble and change for the better after this bitter experience. If not, it will be another house of cards collapse.

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