Singapore men's hockey team pay for poor first half
The Singapore men's hockey team have been getting pointers from hockey royalty, raising eyebrows with their showings on the training ground, but they just cannot seem to replicate it when it counts.
Solomon Casoojee's charges brought the 500-strong crowd at the Sengkang Stadium to their feet in the second half of their opening World League Round 2 fixture against Oman yesterday, but they couldn't repair the damage done by an amateurish first-half showing.
Despite flashes of brilliance, Singapore fell 2-3, and they still have Ukraine and Malaysia to come.
"The Aussie guys (five-time world player of the year Jamie Dwyer and Co) were here training with the boys, and they said that some of the drills were performed to a world standard," said Casoojee.
"We just can't seem to stay in that zone. It's not nerves, I think it's just that we're not used to playing at this level often enough."
Mark Knowles, Liam de Young, Rob Hammond and recently crowned world player of the year Dwyer have been training with the national team as part of The Project Group Academy since December.
They would have been disappointed with the home side's first-half show, with passes going astray, poor control and easy concession of possession, and it was no surprise Singapore were two goals down at the break.
But the team turned it on in the second half, with the effervescent Ian Vanderput pulling one back, before Ashriq Ferdaus scored another through a penalty stroke, but it was too little too late.
Casoojee was candid in his assessment of the team.
"I don't think Oman were lucky, we were sloppy in our basics, didn't adopt the structure that we wanted to play and gave two goals on plate to them," he said.
"The second half we did much better and dominated the game. It's much closer to what we need to play, but still not quite what we're capable of.
"Overall, I'm okay with the performance - not happy with it - we only played to 60 per cent of our capability."
Singapore will face Ukraine tomorrow and Casoojee will focus on the basics in training today.
"We need to focus on core skills: trapping, weight of the pass, the timing of the pass - this is not the hard stuff," he said.
"When you don't play often enough, you just zone in and zone out. We need the boys to pay a lot more attention to detail."
A bright spark on the night was the performance of 27-year-old forward Vanderput, whose blistering pace caused pandemonium in the Omani backline.
He will be crucial because Singapore have to beat Ukraine if they are to meet their target of finishing third in the group.
Pool B results:
- Japan 5 Bangladesh 1
- Poland 6 Mexico 0
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 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."