Malaysia hockey coach vows to win final against Singapore
Malaysia coach Arul warns hosts his players are just much better, ahead of hockey final
It will be a case of men against boys at the Sengkang Stadium tonight in the SEA Games men's hockey final, if Malaysia Under-20 coach A Arulselvaraj is to be believed.
He has come to the Games with a bunch of youngsters, but sees no way the older Singapore team can find a way past his charges.
"I have no doubt that we will win gold," declared Arul.
"The only difference between this match and the last one is that it's the final.
I'm not being cocky here, but the boys know we are much better hockey players than Singapore, and if we do what we always do, there shouldn't be any problem winning gold."
Malaysia have enjoyed hockey hegemony in the region, having lost the gold medal only once - to Singapore in 1973 - in the Games.
Arul's Malaysia conceded an early goal to Singapore the last time the two teams met in the group stage of the tourney, and for some 20 minutes, looked like they were in trouble against the hosts.
But they rallied to win 4-1, and Arul is hardly concerned about the slight wobble.
"I said after that game that I was not worried, and I didn't doubt that we would win; all we needed was patience," he said, revealing that even Malaysia, whose senior side are ranked 12th in the world - 26 spots above nearest South-east Asian rivals Singapore (38th) - have doubters.
"There are doubters everywhere in the world, and we have ours, too."
Winning gold here, with an Under-20 team, will prove a point, yes. We could've brought three or four senior players with us, but we chose to come with boys in preparation for the Junior Asia Cup (in November)," he added.
"Even after we won 4-1, some people asked: how can Singapore manage to score a goal against us, others said well done. I guess it's all about perspective.
"Those who doubt us, just don't know our quality.
"Since I became a coach, I don't bother what other people think."
Malaysia have a stunning record at the Games.
They are on a 44-match winning streak, after a draw with Singapore in Kuala Lumpur at the 1977 Games.
It is a fact not lost on Singapore coach Solomon Casoojee, who vows his team will fight tooth and nail to prevent their Causeway neighbours getting to No. 45.
"They have every right to feel confident, the stats are all in their favour, but our boys are getting closer and closer," warned the South African.
"In the last game, Malaysia didn't create the chances they got, we gifted them those chances with mistakes we made.
"If we can find consistency in decision-making and execution, we can be competitive."
Casoojee had an entire day of meetings with the players, meeting some individually, then in small groups, before addressing the entire team.
With his boys are all fired up to join Veer Singh's class of 1973 - the only Singapore team to have won hockey gold - in the history books, Casoojee feels that with luck, the hosts are capable of stunning Malaysia.
"The pressure is on Malaysia, we've already showed that we can match them if we get things right.
"We had six penalty corners the last time out, and we missed three of them. This time we must make use of every chance that we get, make sure we get them on target," said Casoojee.
"The boys know what's at stake and they are all fired up, and now they have to get it done on the pitch."