Malaysia was a losing finalist at yesterday's Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy finals. Beaten by India 3-1, this was Malaysia's 2nd defeat to the Indians in a few days. Still, the team must be congratulated for getting into the finals and putting up a gallant fight. Detractors would state that the tournament does not attract the top teams and therefore it was a easy passage for Malaysia. It maybe so but it is still better to enter the finals than failing to be there.
The tournament has no bearing on Malaysia's ranking or qualification to the World Cup or the Olympics. Therefore this tournament is more a "battleground" for the national team to prepare for the war i.e qualifying for the World Cup and Olympic. Battlegrounds or better to put it as actual stimulation of the game, to know of the team's strength and weakness plus that of the opponents.
Asia Cup in May 2009 would put us into direct confrontation with either India or Pakistan in the semi-finals, provided we get past the Japanese in our Group. The Champion of Asia Cup gets direct entry to the 2010 World Cup. Effectively this should be Beng Hai's target.
Sultan Azlan Shah tournament has given Beng Hai and Saiful a sample of the Indians and Pakistanis play. This should help in Malaysia's preparation. Equally, Beng Hai and Saiful must be cognisant that the tournament has given Malaysia's potential opponents in the semi-finals an awareness of Malaysia's game and therefore it becomes "battle of the minds" for coaches to ensure the charges win the war. This is what that is going to make the Asia Cup interesting.
Beng Hai must also take note that in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament, the more games Malaysia played, the performance seem to be dipping. We started well with the first 2, then followed by a defeat, a draw and finally a defeat. I do not know whether we should make much of it. An analysis may reflect that players maybe game fit but not tournament fit or the style of play is such that opponents can easily read us. Just something the coaches may want to ponder.
Beng Hai and Saiful, the real test for the team is within a month away and being Champion of the Asia Cup, is what that matters. Good Luck.