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HWL: Stephen Wants To Take One Step At A Time

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KUALA LUMPUR – The national men’s hockey coach Stephen Van Huizen believes in his boys to put on a good show against some of the best teams in the world at the Hockey World League (HWL) in London from June 15-25.

Given the task to earn a berth to the 2018 World Cup in Bhubaneswar, India, the ‘Malaysian Tigers’ squad must at least reach the quarterfinals stage at London to qualify on merit.

But Stephen is eyeing a better finish than quarterfinals, despite being drawn in Pool A with world number one Argentina, host England, South Korea and China.

“But the first thing is, we must qualify to the world cup…Once we are in the quarterfinals, we will see it as a different tournament and try to finish as high as possible. We must finish (among the) top four in the group, so that’s our first focus to take one step at a time.

“We have to be realistic by not setting unrealistic target because we are not going to face chicken feed teams, we are going to face teams like Argentina, England, the Netherlands and India…Each game is important and we must prepare accordingly,” he told Bernama when met at the team’s training at Tun Razak Stadium here, today.

Only 16 teams will be featured in the World Cup finals, namely host India, five continent champions and top 10 or 11 teams from the HWL, excluding the continent champions.

Despite receiving critics from certain quarters due to the poor result at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup outing in Ipoh earlier this month, Stephen said the invitational tournament is considered as the launching pad for his boys to perform better in London.

“We were a bit unlucky to go down against Great Britain and New Zealand but we came back strongly in the last two games to defeat India and win 3-1 comfortably against Japan in the 5th-6th play-off.

“On the penalty conversion rate, I don’t think we did badly…We actually scored six goals, where four were penalty corners, one stroke and another penalty corner disallowed by the umpire. But the statistics of other teams were just as bad as we were, where Australia had three out 27 and some teams had four out of 21.

“However, we will continue to work on the penalty corners, because it’s not just about the flicker. It is a combination of a pusher, stopper and flicker. We must ensure the speed of the injection from the pusher to the stopper to be faster and accurately consistent and execution for the flicker is more consistent,” he said.

Something to cheer Stephen is that the team is getting better in defending penalty corners, where it only let one goal from eight penalty corners against Great Britain in Ipoh.

“The goalkeeper, defenders and runners are working good as a unit to try to prevent the penalty corners, sometimes it worked but sometimes (it) missed. Surely we are trying to do everything to improve in every area before leaving for London,” he said.

For the record, Malaysia who hosted the 2014 World Cup, finished in the last place, while the best finish was fourth place in the 1975 edition in India. – BERNAMA

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