And there could not have been a more explosive start to the MHL, as the Charity Shield will see the battle between two of the early favourites for honours this season – KL Hockey Club and Tenaga Nasional.
With the cream of the crop, in the likes of bulk representation of national players in both the teams, with TNB and KLHC having nine each, the match this Saturday at the National Hockey Stadium is set to be a closely contested affair.
For not only is the bragging rights of capturing the Charity Shield at stake, but the match also offers the winning team three points, and thus a head start over the other who will then have to depend other results to be in their favour.
TNB have the edge in the opening match, simply because they have players who can turn the match around with their speed and a touch of genius.
In goal they can depend on S. Kumar, at times virtually unbeatable. And to provide a strong defence infront of him, there is the likes of Mohd Amin Rahim, Baljit Singh and Mohd Madzli Ikmar – all of whom played crucial roles in Malaysia emerging as the bronze medalist at the recent AHF Champions Trophy in Ordos.
In midfield TNB can rely on last seasons find – Faiz Helmi Jali, while youngsters Muhammad Azammi Adabi, Mohd Firhan Ashaari, Amir Farid Ahmad Fuzi and Faizal Saari are quite capable of breaching the tightest of defences on their day.
Then there are the wily old foxes in the likes of Mahinder Singh and M. Kaliswaran who can change the course of the match with a decisive pass of killer instinct in the semi circle.
But TNB will surely miss the services of hard running Tajol Rosli Mohammad, who has quit the scene.
In contrast, while KLHC may not have players that can match the speed of the TNB youngsters, they have a bunch of players that have tons of experience. And they are expected to utilize this in their quest to be the first team to win the double in consecutive years.
In goal KLHC will rely on Roslan Jamaluddin who seems to get better with age, and providing cover for him will be S. Shanker, Muhammad Razie Abdul Rahim, Ahmad Kazamirul Nasruddin and Baljit Singh.
It is in the midfield that KLHC holds the edge as they have virtually the national team set up with Nabil Fiqri Mohd Noor, Mohd Shahrun Nabil Abdullah and Mohd Sukri Mutalib providing the ammunition for the KLHC strike force.
With Ismail Abu hoping to show the form he displayed at the Razak Cup in July, KLHC has a benchful of strikers that can deliver goals from every corner of the semi circle.
The likes of Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin Ab Jalil, Chua Boon Huat, Azlan Misron, Mohd Fitri Saari and Kevinder Singh are more then capable of punishing any slack in defence by the TNB defenders.
All said and done, the outcome of the match could really hinge on the form of the penalty corner executioners.
KLHC have an added option to their battery this season with the inclusion of Kazamirul, who can find the mark if given the opportunity, while Razie and Baljit are the normal executioners in the penalty corner department.
And for TNB, they have Amin and Faisal, both of whom were in their element in Ordos last week.
What the coaches/managers say:
R. Vivekanandan (KLHC Coach)
It is a must win game for both teams. Though it may be a league, but there is no room for teams to drop points. We really cannot let them have the edge from the start of the season thus winning is of utmost importance to us. I will only have my full team together this evening and in reality the match on Saturday will be the first time the players are playing together as a team after the last match of the previous season.
George Koshy (KLHC Manager)
It will be a difficult league as the teams will be out for our scalp and there is no margin for error as there are only eight matches to decide the league title. Winning match and playing consistently will be the key factors in the MHL this season. We lost to them (0-2) in the opening match last year and cannot allow history to repeat itself. It will be an interesting season as the players from the national team will not be able to train with their clubs and this is something that could prove it difficult to retain both titles as so far as KLHC is concerned.
Lailin Abu Hassan (TNB Coach)
We aim to make it three consecutive wins in the Charity Shield as we won the last two editions (2009 v Sapura and 2010 v KLHC). That will set the benchmark for the team to perform in the remaining matches. There is no second chance in this season as we only get to play all the opponents once. With the national players only joining us in training tomorrow, the idea is to ensure that both set of players , the national and non nationals can gel fast and deliver the results. Dropping points is not an option or luxury that both teams can afford, thus we will play to win on Saturday.
Saturday (September 17, 2011)
1700H – Uniten v Ipoh City Hall – Stadium Tun Razak
2000H – BJSS v UNIMAP – Stadium KPM
2000H – KL Hockey Club v Tenaga Nasional – National Hockey Stadium
Sunday (September 18, 2011)
1700H – SSTMI-Thunderbolt v Uniten – Stadium KPM
1700H – Ipoh City Hall v BJSS – Stadium Sultan Azlan Shah Ipoh
1600H – Armed Forces Airod v Sapura – National Hockey Stadium
1800H – Uitm v UniKL – National Hockey Stadium
2000H – Nur Insafi Penang v Yayasan Negri Sembilan – National Hockey Stadium