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THE Malaysian Under-18 squad have opened up a box of opportunities, as they did the unexpected and delivered a gold medal in the Youth Olympics Hockey 5s in Buenos Aires on Sunday. (NSTP Archive)

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Malaysian Under-18 squad have opened up a box of opportunities, as they did the unexpected and delivered a gold medal in the Youth Olympics Hockey 5s in Buenos Aires on Sunday.

It was a sweet 4-2 win over India in the final, asas hockey made its debut in the third edition, and nobody expected them to travel go the distance and return with gold.

Vivek Sagar Prasad gave India the lead in the second minute, but Firdaus Rosdi equalised in the fifth.

Vivek again gave India the lead, but goals from Akhimullah Anuar Esook (14th, 18th) and Amirul Hamizan Azahar (17th) handed Malaysia a well fought earned gold medal.

For the record, Akhimullah scored a total of 22 goals in the tournament.

“This is a monumental achievement for by our youth, as frankly, when they qualified for the Youth Olympics we waved them off on their journey by telling them to do their best.

“But they achieved a marvelous milestone not only for themselves, but made the whole country proud with a fantastic display,” said Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) president Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal.

Subahan gave credit to the 1Mas Programme for building a strong foundation for this group of players.

“Most of the boys are from the 1Mas Programme initiated by Tunku Abdullah (Sultan Ahmad Shah) and we would like to thank all the coaches involved in nurturing this batch of youth.

“Credit also goes to the Education Ministry for giving these boys a leeway whenever we needed them, and also the National Sports Council (NSC) for their undying help towards hockey,” said Subahan.

MHC have changed the 1Mas structure by introducing a new youth development programme, and the NSC should give them a leg up. And With the Youth Olympics gold in hand, the NSC should continue funding development programmes by MHC as it has they have shown great potential and hockey is the best managed team sport, with results to show, in the country.

The toast of the team, coached by Wallace Tan and Megat Azrafiq, is Akhimullah Anuar Esook who scored a total of 22 goals to who almost single handedly snatched the gold medal.

“These boys have tremendous potential and are our future to lead in qualifying for the 2021 Junior World Cup. Akhimullah, for one, has shown great potential and even technical director Terry Walsh feels the same,” said Subahan.

Terengganu-born Akhimullah is a product of Sekolah Sukan Tunku Mahkota Ismail and in 2016, as a 16-year-old, he played for Malaysia Blue in the Australian Hockey League.

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