Na­tional hockey chief coach Stephen van Huizen is a third gen­er­a­tion Olympian, and he now has the chal­lenge to qual­ify for the 2018 World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Time­s­port’s JUGJET SINGH speaks to van Huizen ahead of the World League Semi-fi­nals on J

New Straits Times - - Sport -

Ques­tion: Malaysian Hockey Con­fed­er­a­tion (MHC) pres­i­dent Datuk Seri Suba­han Ka­mal had said dur­ing the re­cent AGM that he will quit his post if the team fail to qual­ify for the 2018 World Cup. Are your play­ers ready to re­spond to his chal­lenge?

An­swer: We are ready to ac­cept the chal­lenge from our pres­i­dent as prepa­ra­tions have been go­ing smoothly since the World League Round Two in Dhaka.

Af­ter be­com­ing cham­pi­ons in Bangladesh, even though we strug­gled against China in the fi­nal, I be­lieve the play­ers will not want to miss a chance to play in the World Cup.

Many of the play­ers are in the late stages of their play­ing ca­reers, and this could prob­a­bly be their last chance to play in a World Cup and they do not want to miss the op­por­tu­nity.

Q: What was the rea­son for Suba­han to be so con­fi­dent of the team? A: His con­fi­dence prob­a­bly stemmed from the fact that the progress re­port has been good on the team, and also, we need to fin­ish top-six and maybe even the sev­enth spot could take Malaysia into the World Cup.

I be­lieve his chal­lenge has not placed us in a tight spot, or jammed our backs against the wall as we are up to it. The an­nounce­ment did not add any pres­sure on the team, in­stead, it has made our res­o­lu­tion to qual­ify much higher.

We ac­cept the chal­lenge in good faith.

Q: Malaysia will be play­ing in the World League Semi-fi­nals in Lon­don in less than a month’s time. Enough time to rec­tify some of the prob­lems en­coun­ters in Round Two in Dhaka? A: We did not have the best for Dhaka. For ex­am­ple, our num­ber one goal­keeper (S.) Ku­mar could not make it due to fam­ily com­mit­ments, while some had wed­dings and other mat­ters to at­tend.

It is al­ways dif­fer­ent when some of the de­pend­ables are not around and oth­ers fill in the gap. Ku­mar’s pres­ence in the Lon­don qual­i­fier will give every­body added con­fi­dence, and with a full squad of the best avail­able, most of our prob­lems are over.

Q: Penalty cor­ners have al­ways been Malaysia’s strength from the days when you were play­ing hockey. But in the World League Round Two in Dhaka and Azlan Shah Cup, even though the team won more than six penalty cor­ners in a match, the scor­ing rate was very low. What is the main prob­lem?

A: It’s not just our four flick­ers. A penalty cor­ner needs a good push out, good stop, and only then can the flicker make his move. We an­a­lysed the prob­lems faced in the Azlan Shah Cup where we won 31 penalty cor­ners but only scored three, four if you count the one which was turned into a penalty stroke.

And the find­ings showed that ev­ery team in the tour­na­ment had equally huge num­bers of penalty cor­ners won while the scor­ing rate was as low as ours.

This shows that the run-out of penalty cor­ner de­fence has im­proved tremen­dously, mak­ing the drag flicks and set-pieces more dif­fi­cult to ex­e­cute.

And so, we have been train­ing daily since, for the push out to reach the stop­per in 1 or 0.9 sec­onds con­sis­tently to do more dam­age in the World League. Q: Asian teams which we could beat, like Ja­pan and China, have shown tremen­dous progress and have al­most caught up with Malaysia. Has our game stag­nated?

A: No. It has not stag­nated, as our past re­sults against Ja­pan and China have al­ways been close. Even though we did beat Ja­pan 7-2 and China 5-1 in the Asian Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy in Kuantan, the other re­sults have been close.

We had to come from be­hind (0-2) to beat China on penal­ties in the fi­nal in Dhaka, and the pos­i­tive from there was that the play­ers’ fight­ing spirit was tested and they passed the test.

Q: South Korea and China are in Malaysia’s group in Lon­don, while in the cross­over quar­ter-fi­nals there is a high prob­a­bil­ity of meet­ing In­dia or Pak­istan. Does play­ing

Asian sides favour our bid to qual­ify for the 2018

World Cup?

A: There are pros and cons. On the pos­i­tive side, we reg­u­larly play Asian teams and are more com­fort­able with their style and know their strengths and weak­nesses.

We have plenty of videos to watch and learn how to beat them as com­pared to Euro­pean sides like Ger­many or Nether­lands who we rarely meet.

On the neg­a­tive side, our Asian op­po­nents also know us like an open book. This is where de­ter­mi­na­tion, and a sur­prise ele­ment comes into the pic­ture to seal the points.

Q: Be­fore the Azlan Shah

Cup, the play­ers did speed run­ning and weights. What kind of train­ing have you been con­duct­ing with the play­ers since?

A: The play­ers fit­ness is no longer an is­sue as they fought till the end in ev­ery match in the Azlan Shah Cup and we are just hav­ing drills to keep them that way.

The train­ing now is more on be­ing sharp in the semi-cir­cle, and on penalty cor­ner ex­e­cu­tions. Morn­ing and evening drills are on these two fac­tors as split sec­ond de­ci­sions are what we need to beat all the well pre­pared teams in Lon­don.

Q: What is your best mem­ory from Los An­ge­les (1984 Olympics)?

And did your dad and un­cle have any in­ter­est­ing anec­dotes from their Olympic ex­pe­ri­ences?

A: Penalty strokes for me and my dad, while my un­cle was proud to be among the first hockey Olympians in the coun­try.

In 1964 in Tokyo while play­ing against In­dia, Malaysia won a penalty stroke and none of the play­ers dared to take it. My dad stepped for­ward and scored.

Even though Malaysia lost the match 3-1, he was al­ways proud of the fact that he scored against even­tual gold medal­lists In­dia. (In­dia beat Pak­istan 1-0 in the fi­nal).

As for me, even though we fin­ished 11th in Los An­ge­les, my best mem­ory was in the 11th-12th plac­ing match against the United States where the full-time score was 3-3.

Those days a player had to take two penalty strokes, and I scored both in our 9-8 vic­tory.

Af­ter be­com­ing cham­pi­ons in Bangladesh, even though we strug­gled against China in the fi­nal, I be­lieve the play­ers will not want to miss a chance to play in the World Cup.

Q: Af­ter the World League Semi-fi­nals, Malaysia will host the Sea Games and while the field hockey gold has al­ways favoured the na­tion, are we ready for the in­door chal­lenge?

A: Even though the pri­or­ity now is to qual­ify for the World Cup, af­ter the World League, I will release my play­ers for both the field and in­door hockey tour­na­ments in the Sea Games where our tar­get is to win four gold medals (two gold each in the men’s and women’s in­door and field events).

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