For a team with a disproportionate share of victories in their face-offs, India has never been very comfortable against Malaysia. On Sunday, the host would be hoping to do better than the 3-3 draw it managed the last time the two met but it won’t be easy.
Craig Fulton’s men have had contrasting outings in the two games they have played so far at the Asian Champions Trophy, struggling to score against Japan despite being the superior and dominant side.
Malaysia, on the other hand, has come out all guns blazing with most of the key players – some of them like Faizal Saari returning to national duty after a long gap – drawing on its vast experience to go top of the table with full points.
It is this experience and momentum that Fulton would be hoping to break.
“We started the game really well, we just couldn’t find the connections in front of the goal in the first 15-20 minutes... It’s every coach’s concern if you are not converting your chances, whether PCs or field goals (but) nothing changes, it’s a tournament, one game at a time,” Fulton said after the match against Japan that saw India squandering opportunities by the dozen.
Against Malaysia, with veteran Razie Rahim manning the defence, scoring won’t get any easier. India holds a 22-7 win record against Malaysia but that wouldn’t matter on the field.
Malaysia has always been a sticky customer, eliminating India from the Asian Games title-race in 2018 in shootouts. Faizal and Shello Silverius up-front have been quick and India’s defences too will be tested.
Fulton, though, is clear that there won’t be any major changes in the structure or plan going forward. India’s lack of field goals, though, will be something he will be looking to improve.
“It’s not that we are not playing ourselves -- we are playing the way we want to play...we are one phase away from doing what we want to do. It’s also situational. We want our players to shoot, that’s our number one objective and the players have the licence to do so. They then make the next best decision based on instinct and we back that,” he insisted.
Malaysia, though, hasn’t really been tested either so far. It has faced an inexperienced and tired Pakistan side and a relatively weaker China side and, would be aware that India will be a tougher opponent.
With the Asian Games the main target, Malaysia coach Arul Anthoni making it clear his team would be playing attacking hockey and Fulton letting it be known that the team had the “long game” in mind, it will be interesting to see how the teams approach the game.
India vs Malaysia to start at 8.30 pm IST at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium.
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