Host nation Malaysia are the first team to qualify for the semi-finals of the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 in Kuantan. Fitri Saari’s goal made the difference when his Speedy Tigers defeated the Black Sticks 3-2 in a penalty shootout. New Zealand, who entered this quarter-final as the unbeaten pool A winners, found themselves behind 4-1. However, they were able to bounce back and force the ambitious Malaysian side into a shootout competition.
A big crowd had came to see New Zealand taking on host nation Malaysia in today’s first quarter-final in the stadium Wisma Belia. Both teams have also qualified for the Rabobank Hockey World Cup in The Hague. The Black Sticks were quick to get on the scoreboard with Steve Edwards (4’) putting his team up after three minutes. Malaysia pushed hard to equalize but the New Zealand defence kept the sheet clean in the first quarter.
Because of the hot weather conditions here in Kuantan this match was played in four quarters of 17.5 minutes each. The second quarter saw Malaysia eventually getting on the scoreboard when team-captain Azlan Misron (20’) scored from open play to level the score. The Malaysian national team, also known as Speedy Tigers, added another goal just three minutes later when Muhammad Saabah (23’) fired home a penalty corner. Suddenly, the unbeaten Black Sticks found themselves behind for the first time in this tournament.
The hosts extended their lead to 3-1 one minute later when Fitri Saari (24’) scored from a solo run. The enthusiastic crowd pushed Malaysia to their fourth goal which came off the stick of Muhammad Saabah (31’). Malaysia nearly shocked the tournament favourites again by scoring a fifth goal but Faizal Saari’s solo run attempt was eventually saved by Black Sticks goalkeeper Devon Manchester. “We lost this match in the second quarter”, said Black Sticks coach Colin Batch.
New Zealand had better control of the game in the third quarter but just could find one goal thanks to a successful penalty corner taken by flicker Andy Hayward (45’). New Zealand returned the pressure in the fourth quarter and won a series of penalty corners but the Malaysian defence and goalie Kumar blocked the shots. However, Hayward (60’) managed to get one shot past the keeper shortening the score to 4-3.
With three minutes remaining, New Zealand substituted their goalkeeper to play on with 11 field players. The effort paid off and the Black Sticks won another penalty corner in the last minute. The first attempt led to another penalty corner and this one was converted by Simon Child (70’). “I’m very proud on how the guys came back in the second half”, added Batch. “This was very difficult to swallow but we managed to prepare the boys for the shootout”, said Malaysia coach Muhammad Dhaarma Raj.
The shootout saw New Zealand going up 2-0 thanks to goals from Hugo Inglis and Blair Hilton. This time Malaysia fought back scoring from their last three attempts thanks to Firhan Ashari, Muhammad Sabbah and Fitri Saari.