Tai Beng Hai is a man under pressure. Appointed to the hot seat of National Coach some eight months ago, Beng Hai has been given the tough task of taking Malaysia to the 2010 New Delhi World Cup via the qualifiers that will be played in October/November this year.
For the record Malaysia last played in the World Cup when it was held in Malaysia in 2002 and on merit Malaysia has only made it to the World Cup twice since 1980, the 1982 World Cup in Bombay and the 1998 World Cup in Utrecht.
A task not for the fainthearted but Beng Hai has put his neck on the chopping block. Failure in the qualifiers, to be played in France, New Zealand or Argentina could well result in Beng Hai joining the likes of Paul Lissek, Sarjit Singh, Wallacca Tan, Stephen van Huizen and Yahya Atan as the former national coaches, all within the last 9 years.
In a no holds barred interview with Malaysian Hockey, Beng Hai talks about the teams chances at the qualifiers, the preparation so far and what is lacking as well as the problems he faces within the team.
Read Part One
MalaysianHockey: You have been tasked to ensure Malaysia plays in the World Cup next year. In all honesty, what do you think our chances are?
Beng Hai: It makes no difference where we play, be it Argentina, New Zealand or France, all the qualifiers are going to be tough. In each of the qualifiers there will be a good team, be it New Zealand, Argentina, Pakistan and in order to qualify we have to beat them, twice that is. So I am being realistic in saying that it will be very difficult to qualify given the current circumstances. I have been with the team for eight months and that is not enough time to whip up a team capable of challenging for honours. To be honest as you said, I think we do not have what it takes to finish amongst the top in any of the qualifiers as we still lack in certain areas and the other teams are ahead of us. But then again there is the element of surprise and we could just pull it off and be in Delhi next March.
MH: It has been said that Malaysia were offered a chance to host the qualifiers after Dubai opted out but the MHF did not take it up. Would you look at things in a different perspective had Malaysia hosted the qualifiers?
BH: That is something that I was never made aware off. If we had played host then things maybe different as with home ground advantage and vocal support we could have had the added advantage. But more so hockey in the country would have benefited as seen from the Asia Cup in Kuantan and the Junior World Cup in Johor Baru. The public needs to get behind the national team and that will help us perform better.
MH: Some have said that the Australian and New Zealand tours were a waste of tax payers funds while others questioned the tactics and rationale of playing the matches, not to mention the yoyo performances of the team against Australia.
BH: As a Coach responsible towards the team, I stand by the decision to play the matches. Over the past few months I have seen vast improvements in areas that require work on, the players are more confident, more effective, more committed when compared to the first few months I took over the team. Our defensive tactics have improved and the players have gained the confidence to take on teams like Australia, rather then just defend. What we need to work on is consistency as you can see from the results during the tour. The players need to work on holding the ball, holding on to a lead and more importantly play with confidence and take on their opponents. Only through playing matches can we improve as not all can be corrected via training alone.
MH: The team has played some 30 international matches, not taking into account the matches against club sides. Of the 30 matches, Malaysia won 10, lost 13 and drew the rest. Is the number of matches played adequate for preparing a team to the qualifiers?
BH: We are scheduled to play six matches in China next month, four against China and the other two against Australia “A”. Realistically we should play around 50 matches per year. There is a possibility that Australia will play us when they go to India in October, a stopover in Malaysia on the way up or down. We also have to wait for the decision from FIH as to which qualifiers we are to play in as it will determine the additional matches, if we play in October then it may well be difficult to arrange matches and a 3 Nation Tournament at home will be a good option, provided we get European Teams that is.