Kane is the Kiwi dangerman in Malaysia’s opener

Friday, 06 December 2013 10:56

MALAYSIA begin their Junior World Cup hockey campaign with a Group D match against New Zealand on Friday and skipper Fitri Saari reckons this will be their biggest hurdle.

The other teams in the group are England and South Africa.

He said that although Malaysia are capable of a top-four finish in the tournament, “we need to play as a unit and also avoid making mistakes”.

“New Zealand are not going to be easy ... but we can beat them. We have to keep it (our game) simple. Playing to instruction is also crucial but, more importantly, we have to keep the mistakes to a minimum,” he said at the Lalit Hotel, where the team are staying.

The national players have been watching video recordings of New Zealand’s matches and Fitri reckons that the Kiwis are most dangerous from penalty corner situations.

And the man they need to fear is Kane Russell, the Kiwis’ penalty corner specialist.

“They are a strong side with all-around abilities. We cannot give them too much space or penalty corners,” said Fitri.

The Kiwis also see Malaysia as a threat to their chances.

Coach Grant Edwards said there was no way they would relax against the Malaysians although “we have beaten them in friendlies in 2012” when they last played each other.

“This is the real thing ... the match will be crucial to both our chances. Opening matches are always tough and the ones who can settle down quickly will have the edge,” said Edwards.

Malaysian goalkeeper Mohd Hafizuddin Othman admitted that stopping the New Zealand penalty corner battery will be the key to victory.

“Of course our defenders can make it easier if they avoid mistakes and not concede penalty corners. But, if they do, then I will have to be at my best to stop their attempts,” said Hafizuddin.

“I have seen the Kiwis on video and I see they have a very strong drag flicker in Russell. I have seen his style ... I’ll be ready for him.”

After New Zealand, Malaysia face South Africa on Sunday and England on Monday.

“We need to it take one game at a time. There is no need to put ourselves under pressure. My message to my team-mates is to keep everything simple and to stay focused. I’m confident we can live up to expectations,” said Fitri.

The Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) have set the team a top-six target. Can they do better than that?

Let’s see what happens on Friday, first.

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