NATIONAL chief coach K. Dharmaraj yesterday denied speculation that Malaysia were playing badly in the Champions Challenge I in Kuantan because of disunity due to his selection of players.Malaysia lost 3-2 to France and 3-1 to South Korea and will play Canada today, where a defeat will see them face tournament favourites New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
“I agree the team have not been playing up to mark, and I have also heard from many people that the cause might be due to the selection of many Junior World Cup players (eight) and that I have favoured certain players over others who were dropped.
“But there is no truth in this because I have selected the best available and I am trying out new positions for several players and that is why the team look disjointed and unsettled after two matches.
“I was also a player once, and I will never bring favouritism into selecting players as I know it causes pain to those who are not selected,” said Dharmaraj.
He also agreed that the midfield and defence are in disarray.
“With regular defender Razie (Rahim) still nursing an injury and several former key players not selected because others have overtaken them, there is bound to be some miscommunication between the players. But it is not because they are not happy with my selection process.”
Midfielder-defender Shahrun Nabil and defender Baljit Singh were among the players left out, and replaced with German-born Kevin Lim and a host of juniors.
“We also tried some things that normally we don’t do. Playing Faiz Helmi in midfield instead of as a sweeper and Kevin at the back were choices I had to make given the situation we are in.
“If we had Razie (Rahim) I could have pushed Faiz up in midfield. This (against Canada) is the only chance we have of trying out players in the group stage before moving on to the quarter-finals.”
“I am looking at sticking to our earlier game plan and positions. We have a problem at the back (defence) and are not settled yet. I have to see what the best line-up is as the matches go,” he lamented.
Malaysia’s hopes hinge on the France-South Korea match at 3pm, because if the French win, Malaysia will finish at the bottom of Group B and chances are high they will meet tournament favourites New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
But if South Korea beat France and Malaysia beat Canada, Dharmaraj’s side will not only avoid New Zealand in the quarters, but also the semis if they progress that far.
For the record, Malaysia defeated Canada 3-0 in the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh in March.
Read more: HOCKEY: Coach shoots down disunity claims - Other - New Straits Times