Saturday, November 14, 2009


New Zealand is the favourites to win the sole berth available for the 2010 Hockey World Cup from the qualifiers from Invercargill but there is much more at stake for those who love sports in New Zealand.

For in half an hour’s time the New Zealand All Whites (football team) takes on Bahrain in the second leg of the World Cup Qualifiers in Wellington.

So within the next 24 hours New Zealand could have two teams in the World Cup, both hockey and football, or ironically suffer the ignominy of seeing both teams miss out on the World Cup, which will make it a black Sunday for the Kiwis.

While the All Whites are underdogs against Bahrain to qualify for the 2010 South Africa FIFA World Cup, the Black Sticks are odds on favourites to win the berth for the New Delhi Hockey World Cup.

Standing in their way is resilient Malaysia, who upset 13th ranked China for a place in the final, which will get underway at 3.00pm local time (10.00am Malaysian Time).

For the record, Malaysia and New Zealand have met a total of 51 times over the years with New Zealand ahead in the matches won, with 27 while Malaysia has won 12 matches with another 12 matches ending in draws. While New Zealand has scored a total of 105 times against Malaysia, they have conceded 71 goals.

Those are statistics that divide the two teams, but the final will be a different proposition altogether

For once the sun broke through the clouds at Invercargill when Malaysia took on China, and the end result was fantastic for the Malaysians as they won 3-0 and booked a place in the final.

Kelvinder Singh, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin and Nabil Fitri Mohd Nor scored the goals as the Malaysians upset the formbook, shrugging of a difficult week, with inconsistency as well as a leaky defence to outclass the Chinese.

Coach Tai Beng Hai made a sensible decision to make changes to the defence, opting to leave out skipper Mohd Madzli Ikmar after the New Zealand match and bringing Mohd Razie Abd Rahim into the heart of defence to partner the likes of Jiwa Mohan, Mohd Amin Rahim and Baljit Singh.

In midfield, Mohd Shukri Mutalib, Jiwa Mohan and Mohd Shahrun Nbil have been doing well, keeping the engine room running with their hrd work and ingenuity by spraying passes behind the opponents defence.

The inclusion of S. Selvarajoo to partner Azlan Misron and Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin in attack is akin to a breath of fresh air as he has provided decisiveness with his penetrating runs.

Faisal Saari and Nabil Fiqri when brought into the fray are able to blend into the strikeforce without disruptions while Kelvinder Singh, rested for much of the tournament, has this uncanny knack of popping up at the right place at the right time.

The journalists in the media centre were impressed by what they saw in Kelvinder, for he scored the first and created the second goal and asked Beng Hai as to why was he not in the pitch for longer periods.

“Kelvinder has just recovered from an injury and is slow on the turn. Hence I use him in attack rather then his normal position which is in midfield,” explained Beng Hai.

On the chances of the team against New Zealand, who beat them 4-2 in the preliminary round, Beng Hai sounded optimistic for the first time.

“We were not even expected to make the final but here we are. It is a totally new ball game and whoever takes their chances will be in New Delhi next year,” said Beng Hai.

“We have nothing to lose as the home team are expected to do the double on us. But we are prepared for them as our players are confident when facing the Kiwis.”

And Beg Hai could be right as veteran journalist Pat Rowley puts it, “ It is always difficult to beat a team twice.”

The Kiwi bubble will burst, but will Malaysia be able to do the honours?