FIH Men’s Series Finals: Canada wins battle of nerves against the host Malaysia
Two penalty corner goals, two saves of penalty strokes coupled with excellent individual performances helped Canada to justify its top ranking in FIH Men’s Series Finals by defeating the host Malaysia 3-2 in a pulsating final in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. The win comes a great morale booster as Canada heads a couple of months later to Lima in Peru to play in the Pan American Games. Though both Canada and Malaysia have qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Qualifier to be played later this year, it came as a slight disappointment for the home team. It had its chances but luck played truant. Earlier, Italy beat Australia to take the third position in the eight-nationfirst of the two FIH Men’s Series Finals. The second event will be played at Bhubaneshwar in India in June. Besides the four qualifiers from these two events, the FIH will invite some top ranking teams to complete the list of teams to participate in the Olympic Qualifier.
The final turned out to be an exciting affair with the Malaysia calling the shots first. It was Firhan Ahsari who drew the first blood . Canada, playing 3-3-3-1 formation, however, settled down quickly. Unnerved by the vociferous sizeable home crowd, Canadians played to a strategy – work out penalty corners and score. Malaysia’s track record in the area of penalty corners in this tournament remained far from satisfactory. It not only conceded all four goals against China through penalty corners but also conceded two against Italy. And two, it was Canada to become a major beneficiary. Skipper Scott Tupper and then Brenden Bissett found the target past the vulnerable Malaysian defence from penalty corners in the 20th and 28th minutes. Malaysia’s second goal that came seven minutes before the final whistle was of a deft deflection by one of the best performing local player, Tengku Tajuddin, who just slammed a high rising pass from Raazi.
In between Malaysia had earned two penalty strokes, first when Keegan Pereira brought down Sumantri Nursyafiq and the second was when goalkeeper Antoni Kindler blocked a Malaysian. It was following a penalty corner award that came when the ball struck a. defender’s foot in a forest of legs. It must go to credit of Antoni that he did not allow Saari brothers – Fitri or Faizal – to score. A team failing to make use of two strokes or any of five penalty corners with a strong home crowd could not have asked for a better result than 2-3 reverse at the hands of a slightly better ranked team. For Canada, there were some excellent individual performances. besides goalkeeper Antoni Kindler, it was Such Panesar who was the cynosure of all eyes. He almost got his third goal of the tournament with a brilliant solo but his effort ended on hitting the goalpost. Keegan Pereira, Scott Tupper and James Kirkpatrick, who got the third and final goal with a neat deflection were outstanding.