Hockey World Cup: Shootout drama as battling Malaysia miss out on quarterfinals

ARNAZ M. KHAIRUL
22 Jan 2023 10:44pm
Malaysia's Faizal Saari dribbles past two Spanish players during their FIH World Cup crossover playoff match at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Malaysia lost 4-3 in a shootout after the score was tied 2-2 in regulation time.
Malaysia's Faizal Saari dribbles past two Spanish players during their FIH World Cup crossover playoff match at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Malaysia lost 4-3 in a shootout after the score was tied 2-2 in regulation time.
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BHUBANESWAR - Malaysia missed out on a quarterfinals spot after a dramatic 4-3 shootout defeat to Spain after both teams were tied 2-2 at full-time in the crossover playoffs at the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup here today.

Despite the defeat, coach Arul Selvaraj's men could hold their heads up high, particularly as Malaysia moved up to ninth in the world rankings after finishing second in their preliminary round group behind the Netherlands.

Malaysia started off the match cautiously, relying on a solid defensive performance to hold the attacking Spaniards at bay for a scoreless first half.

Seeming content at absorbing the waves of Spanish attacks, Malaysia sprung a surprise with a quickfire counter attack in the 34th minute.

Playing out of defence, Faiz Helmi Jali slipped a long through ball from inside the Malaysian half to Faizal Saari, who found himself with space and pulled the ball to the left of Spanish goalkeeper Adrian Rafi, wrong-footing him before firing into the bottom right corner to give Malaysia the lead against the run of play.

If Malaysia thought the lead would releave some pressure off their backs, the were wrong, as Spain doubled their attacking efforts and the Malaysians found their backs to the wall with no way out of their own half.

The Spaniards finally found a breakthrough in the 40th minute when captain Marc Miralles slotted home a penalty stroke, after Ashran Hamsani was judged to have blocked a goal-bound shot with his body.

Just a minute later, Malaysia found themselves a goal behind when Xavier Gispert slotted home a field goal.

That Malaysia only earned their first penalty corner at the start of the fourth quarter in the 46th minute, showed just how much of the game was played in their half. They did not make that count, however, with Razie Rahim's shot blocked.
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Malaysia grew more desparate as the match headed into the final minutes, pushing more players forward. But that was what delivered the equaliser in the 48th minute, when with multiple bodies in the Spanish semi-circle, a goalmouth melee saw the ball ricochet into the path of Shello Silverius.

The Sabahan found am unguarded spot in the bottom right corner of the Spanish goal and made no mistake in placing the ball with pin-point accuracy.

The final 11 minutes proved tense as a green card Azuan Hasan saw him sit out the 55th to 58th minutes, but to Malaysia's relief, Spain too were reduced to 10 men after Miralles was green-carded just a minute later.

But it was Miralles' return in the 59th minute that sparked an intense final minute, as his forays down the right flank saw the Spaniards pile the pressure on the Malaysian goal, resulting in four successive penalty corners, but Malaysia held strong and the match went to a shoot-out.

After Firhan Ashari slotted home the first shootout, goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman gave Malaysia the advantage after he managed to block the first Spanish shooter Alvaro Iglesias.

Faizal, whose thunderous shot had given Malaysia the lead in regulation time, again made no mistake in the shootout, tricking Spain's shootout goalkeeper Mario Garin before sounding the board with a shot underneath the diving goalkeeper.

Spain pulled a goal back through Miralles, but then Malaysia's captain Marhan Jalil, a solid stumbling block in defence, took too much time before rushing a shot into Garin, which saw Malaysia's advantage diminish.

It was then the turn of 20-year old Shahmi Irfan Suhaimi, in only his second appearance for the national team. But the youngster was arguably the coolest head of the shooters, slotting home confidently to give Malaysia hope.

The Spaniards also scored from their next two shootouts, but there was high drama in the final two regulatory shootouts, when first Shello had dribbled around Garin only to see his shot bounce off the post, before Hafizuddin blocked Marc Reynee's effort to keep Malaysia in the hunt and bring the shootout to sudden death.

It only took two sudden death shootouts to decide the match. Miralles fired home Spain's first shot, before Firhan saw his shot denied by Garin to send the Spaniards through to the quarterfinals against Australia.

Malaysia, who saw their world rankings rise to ninth in the last update on Jan 19, will now play in the fifth to eighth place classification matches, but it has thus far already been an inspired tournament for the Malaysians.

"I don't think we failed. We did a lot of things well and we rose above expectations. We wanted to come out of the group stage and we did that. I think we gave Spain a run for their money and we lost in a shootout, which could have gone either way," said head coach Arul Selvaraj.

"I am proud of our boys. Right now they are frustrated because we came here to win. They had the belief. They came back from 2-1 down because they had the belief that we could win this game. So, now we have to move back to Rourkela for the classification matches and we have to motivate the squad again for that."

Malaysia have not made the quarterfinals of the World Cup since 2002, but will be looking ahead with confidence that they are finally clawing their way back to be among the top teams in the world.