Hockey squad determined not to miss golden opportunity

Malaysia is in search of its first Asian Games gold medal in hockey. (Bernama pic)

JAKARTA: The national men’s hockey squad is determined not to miss the opportunity to make history by winning the gold medal at the Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games, which would also give them automatic qualification to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

They are set to face Japan in the final at the Gelora Bung Karno Hockey Stadium tomorrow.

Head coach Stephen van Huizen admitted his men were highly motivated and ready to take on the team which beat Asian powerhouse Pakistan in the semifinals yesterday.

He said he also ensured the team did not celebrate too early, a mistake they made during the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, where they were thrilled to be the first Malaysian squad to make the final after dislodging favourites India in the semis, only to lose to Pakistan 2-0 in the final.

“I admit that the attitude punished us in the final, and I hope it does not happen again in this final against Japan,” he told the Malaysian media here today.

On paper, Malaysia, who advanced to the final after beating India in their semifinal yesterday and are ranked 12th in the world, are considered the favourites to take home the gold against Japan, who are ranked 16th.

However, van Huizen said he had urged his players not to look down upon their Japanese counterparts.

“I do not want them to be too confident because we have not won the gold medal, and I have also told the players not to underestimate Japan’s ability, as anything can happen in the final,” he added.

Malaysia has never won a gold medal in the men’s hockey event at the Asian Games, with a silver medal in the 2010 edition its best result to date.