Malaysia worried about poor pitch condition

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KUALA LUMPUR  –  The national team are unhappy with the deplorable conditions of the AstroTurf at the Al-Rayyan Hockey Stadium in Doha, the venue of the six-nation Asian Champions Trophy tournament.

Malaysia, who finished third in last year’s championship in China, open their campaign against Japan today. The others in the fray are defending champions India, Pakistan, China and newcomers Oman.

“The turf is worn out and slippery. It’s also uneven. The players are finding it difficult to play on the pitch despite training there on three occasions,” team manager Mohd Saberi Salleh told the Star in a telephone interview yesterday.

He added that the team’s performance could be affected by the poor condition of the pitch.

“To make matter worse, it took us an hour to reach the venue from the hotel,” complained Saberi, who is also the Terengganu HA secretary.

To prepare for the tournament, Malaysia played a friendly against Qatar on Tuesday. The Malaysians won 8-0.

“It was a good warm-up before we take on Japan,” said Saberi.

Saberi, however, warned his team not to take Japan for granted.

“We can expect a difficult task against Japan as they are a fast attacking team. They have retained a number of players who finished fifth in the recent Champions Challenge I tournament in Argentina.

“The pressure will be on us to get the better of Japan as we beat them twice in the tournament last year,” said Saberi.

Malaysia won 3-2 in the preliminary round and 1-0 in the third placing playoff.

“We need a good result against Japan to boost our confidence for the other matches. And coach Paul (Revington) wants the team to improve their performance in every match.

“Our main concern is the defence as they conceded goals when it mattered most in the Champions Challenge I tournament,” said Saberi.

Malaysia won the first four group matches, scoring 16 goals and conceding five. But in the semi-finals against South Korea, they trailed 4-0 and eventually lost 6-3.

In the bronze medal playoff against Ireland, Malaysia were leading 3-2 with three minutes remaining. But Ireland managed to equalise to force the match into sudden-death extra-time. Ireland went on to win 4-3.

“Our target here is to improve on our third placing. Pakistan and India (who finished third and fourth in the recent Champions Trophy in Melbourne) will pose a big threat to our hopes of reaching the final,” said Saberi.

Saberi added that regular midfielder Nabil Fiqri Mohd Noor failed to make the final 18-member squad after suffering a hamstring injury in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.

“We have replaced him with Mohd Marhan Mohd Jalil,” he added.