Sports

Malaysia start their climb up

These are tumultuous times in Malaysian hockey. 

The men's national side have seen three head coaches in a space of 15 months, the team suffered the ignominy of a 4-2 defeat by minnows Trinidad and Tobago at last year's Commonwealth Games, and they have slipped out of the top 10 in the world rankings. 

Yesterday at the Sengkang Stadium, Malaysia started what they hope will be a climb back up to the upper echelons of world hockey.

Tai Beng Hai's charges beat Ukraine 5-1 in their opening fixture of the Men's World League Round 2 (WLR2). 

"This is a very important tournament for us, a road to the Rio Olympics (in 2016), and we must ensure that we qualify," said Tai, the third national coach since the departure of South African Paul Revington in 2013. 

Malaysia aim to qualify for the final to ensure that their Olympic dreams stay alive. The top three in this tournament advance to the next round.

"We are the top-ranked team here, and we are expected to do well, much more than other teams here," said Tai.

EXPECTATIONS 

"Expectations are there, we just need to focus on what we need to do." 

Malaysia are ranked 13th in the world, with Japan (14th) and Poland (18th) their closest opposition here. Hosts Singapore are the lowest-ranked team at 36. 

Before Malaysia meet Oman tomorrow, Tai will want to see his men convert their possession into opportunities on goal. 

Hard-running in defence and showing flashes of brilliance in attack, Malaysia could have scored more goals, if not for some glaring misses and also the inspired form of Ukraine goalkeeper Iaroslav Hordey.

Tai is already warning against complacency. 

"We cannot take things easy. All teams are catching up, and with the new rules, they are able to give trouble to (higher) ranked teams," said Tai, referring to the new format of four 15-minute quarters that was introduced at last year's Incheon Asian Games.

"Now you can't lose possession easily and this format allows teams breaks to rest, take instructions and fix things.

"We must be careful."