MALAYSIA booked a place in Saturday’s semi-finals of the Champions Challenge in Quilmes, Argentina when they beat the inexperienced South Africa men’s hockey team 4-1 in the first quarter-final of the tournament Thursday.
The defeat means that, at best, South Africa can finish fifth, provided they win their last two playoff games, the first being at 1.30pm on Saturday against Japan or South Korea, who face-off in their last-eight tie later Thursday.
The most experienced team in Quilmes by far, the Malaysian Tigers boast an average 150 Test matches per player despite their average being just 25, while South Africa – by far the most inexperienced team at the tournament – can only muster an average 35 Tests per player despite the average age of 24 being just one less than the Malaysians.
Group A winners Malaysia started with a bang when Ahmad Tajuddin breached the goalline after a fast-paced counter-attack a mere three minutes into the match.
The opening quarter also saw the Tigers earn three penalty corners that weren’t converted. Leading into half-time, SA had their best period of the match, creating problems for Malaysia’s defence, but striker Miguel da Graca let slip a great chance to equalise when he only had keeper Kumar Subramiam to beat.
The Tigers made the perfect start to the second half when Faizal Saari nailed home a penalty corner drag-flick three minutes after the changeover before Abdul Jalil had a double chance – the first blocked and the second fizzing over the crossbar.
Heading towards the final quarter of the match, South Africa’s Matthew Guise-Brown, playing in just his fourth international, suffered the disappointment of seeing his penalty corner drag-flick scrape the wrong side of the crossbar.
The match was effectively sealed off in the 57th minute when first the irrepressible Jalil made it 3-1 with a super deflection goal off a penalty corner before Saari added Malaysia’s fourth in emphatic fashion from field play not even 60 seconds later.
SA captain Austin Smith scored via a penalty corner drag-flick with seven minutes left to narrow the goal margin to 4-1.
Owen Mvimbi brought out a top save from keeper Subramiam, who dived to his right and turned the ball past the outside of the post as pressure in the dying minutes was successfully absorbed by the Malaysian defence.
In the other quarters Japan (second in Group B) face South Korea (third in Group A), Poland (second in Group A) meet Ireland (third in Group B) and Argentina (first in Group B) are up against Canada (fourth in Group A). – Supplied