When Arul Anthoni Selvaraj took over as Malaysia’s head coach three years ago, he realised the importance of grooming and developing goalkeepers. And the first name that came to his mind was none other than Kumar Subramaniam, a veteran of 321 Internationals.
The two have closely worked together since and have ensured that there is harmony in the team and better communication between junior and senior players.
In a career spanning two decades including two silver medals in Asian Games (‘2010 &’18) and a silver in the 2017 Asia Cup, Kumar has been the bulwark of the team and he is now diligently guiding the younger goalkeepers.
“During my time, there was a huge gap between me and other goalkeepers. Now it is not so. There is a healthy competition between the three goalkeepers. There will be a training camp when we go back to Malaysia to select the best two,” said Kumar to Sportstar here on Thursday, on the sidelines of the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament.
Hafizuddin Othman, Zaimi Mat Deris and Adrian Andy Albert are the three fighting for the two spots. While Othman is the first-choice goalkeeper, Zaimi is his deputy. Adrian has not come after playing in the friendlies against Korea in June.
“We are giving equal chances to both (Hafiz & Zaimi) here. We have alternated between the two after each quarter and on Wednesday (against Korea) each played in first and second quarters respectively. But Hafizuddin will be playing in the semifinals against Korea on Friday,” said Kumar.
The former Malaysian keeper felt that this could be the best chance for his team to reach the final for the first time in seven editions of Asian Champions Trophy.
“Since 2011 (barring 2021 as the team didn’t participate), we have finished third in all editions. This time we have a solid opportunity. But Korea is not an easy team to beat as they are speedy, physically strong and good in short corners,” said Kumar.
While analysing the performance of his goalkeepers in the tournament, Kumar expressed satisfaction, but said improvements can still be made.
“Overall, they have been good, barring two crucial errors against India. Against Japan, Zaimi did well affecting some good saves while Hafiz did really well against Pakistan and should have, in my opinion, received the ‘Man of the match’ award,” opined the 43-year-old.
Kumar is aiming for a gold in Hangzhou Asian Games, which he felt is possible. His next big dream is to qualify for the Olympics, a feat he couldn’t do in five previous editions since 2004 as a player.
“That’s the sad part. I have so many awards and tournaments. Not qualifying for Olympics will be a kurai (regret). I kept trying since 2004 but failed. This time, with our preparations and with a bit of luck, we should make it,” he said.
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