KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — Malaysia’s Speedy Tigers threw everything they had at Spain in their crossover match but were sunk by a sudden-death penalty shootout goal to go down 3-4 at the 2023 Hockey World Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar in, India.
Both teams were tied at 2-2 in regulation time, with Malaysia scoring two field goals through Faizal Saari (34th minute) and Shello Silverius (48th minute) and Spain replying through a Marc Miralles penalty stroke in the 40th minute and a Xavier Gispert field goal a minute later.
That saw the match go into a penalty shootout which ended 3-3, with Spain reserve goalkeeper Mario Garin, who came on for first-choice custodian Adrian Rafi, emerging the hero when he denied two Malaysians – skipper Muhammad Marhan Mohd Jalil and forward Shello – while Firhan Ashari, Faizal and Shahmie Irfan Suhaimi netted their efforts.
That forced the match into a sudden-death penalty shootout which Spain aced through Miralles as Malaysia’s Firhan Ashaari blew his effort.
Although the Speedy Tigers missed out on a place in the quarter-finals, head coach A. Arul Selvaraj’s men deserve credit for dragging the fancied Spain, who are coached by Maximiliano Caldas, all the way to a sudden-death penalty shootout.
The game began with Malaysia taking an overly cautious approach and their passes often going astray in the Spanish half, making it difficult for them to launch any serious threat to their opponents in the first half.
Spain, who dominated possession, also failed to capitalise on their chances when Malaysian goalkeeper Muhammad Hafizuddin Othman did well to deny several attempts, including thwarting an effort by Enrique Gonzalez off a penalty corner in the 11th minute and another effort by Joaquin Menin nine minutes later.
The second half was a more exciting affair and the Speedy Tigers took just four minutes after the re-start to stun the Red Sticks through prolific marksman Faizal Saari’s field goal.
However, Miralles equalised off a penalty stroke in the 40th minute before Spain then led 2-1 after Gispert finished off a swift move from the right by Pere Amat.
Stunned, Malaysia then went on the offensive in the fourth and final quarter and were unlucky when Amirul Azahar’s equaliser was chalked off by umpire Marcin Grochal because the ball had hit the back of Faizal’s hockey stick before it reached Amirul.
Undaunted, the Speedy Tigers fought back to make 2-2 when Shello pounced on a goalmouth melee to flick the ball past Adrian in the 48th minute, forcing the match to be decided in a shootout that ended in Spain’s favour.
Malaysia began this World Cup campaign with a 4-0 loss to three-time champions the Netherlands before bouncing back to win their next two Group C matches – both 3-2 – against Chile and fancied New Zealand.
That enabled the Speedy Tigers to finish second behind the Dutch and make it to the crossover tie against Spain.
The Speedy Tigers, however, are far from done as they still have the ninth-16thh classification matches to play, starting with a match against South Africa, who finished bottom of Group A, on Thursday (Jan 26) at the Birsa Munda Stadium in Rourkela.
Arul Selvaraj said he was proud of the Speedy Tigers despite the defeat as they displayed a high fighting spirit to give Spain a run for their money.
“Naturally disappointed but we will get over it tonight because tomorrow is a new day and we intend to start focusing on our match against South Africa,” he said.
He also hoped that Malaysians will continue to give their full backing to the national team as it will provide the Speedy Tigers with the motivation to end their World Cup campaign in ninth spot.