HANGZHOU, Sept 22 — The Malaysian men’s team have played in all 16 editions since hockey made its Asian Games debut in 1958 in Tokyo, but a gold medal has always eluded them.
When the Speedy Tigers walk into the pitch against Thailand in the Group B opening fixture at the Gongshu Canal Sports Park Stadium on Sunday (September 24) for the team’s 17th appearance in the Asiad, their only goal is to clinch the historic gold.
The glittering gold, apart from earning the honour of champions of the quadrennial Games, will also help the national team to end their over two-decade of absence from the Olympics, as the Asian Games winner will get a direct slot for the Paris 2024 Games as continental champions, and avoid next year’s qualifiers against the formidable Europeans.
The last time the Speedy Tigers played on the Olympics stage was in the Sydney 2000 edition.
Head coach A. Arulselvaraj, whose key performance indicator among others is to take the team back to the Olympics again, wants his charges to be focused towards the mission, as it is the most awaited moment since taking over the team in mid-2020.
“I told the players to dream, even before we start training today. I want them to enjoy the stadium, walk around and feel it, a beautiful stadium. We wanted to create history and love to do something for Malaysian hockey and ourselves.
“For me, of course, that is why I came back (from Ireland), to try to put Malaysia back into the Olympics; it is a lovely stage if we can fulfil that. I think the delay of the Asian Games (for a year due to Covid-19), in a way, benefitted us. I looked at it as a divine intervention to allow us to get stronger.
“Because physically the boys were stronger, empowered and they have grown a lot as individuals. Even in the training, I can see they are fired up,” he told Bernama after the team’s first official training at the venue upon arriving at the Games Village last night.
Arulselvaraj said the world number 10 Speedy Tigers will be working on fine-tuning several crucial aspects, including penalty corners, ahead of the opening match, followed by matches against Oman on September 26, Indonesia (September 28), South Korea (September 30) and host China (October 2).
Malaysia’s best achievement in the Asian Games was emerging as runners-up in the 2010 Guangzhou and 2018 Jakarta-Palembang editions, besides having bagged six bronze medals, while former powerhouse Pakistan is the most successful team with eight gold medals.
The Speedy Tigers were fired with the hope of achieving the Asiad gold, especially after winning their maiden Sultan Azlan Shah Cup last November and advancing to the Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) final for the first time since its inception in 2011 before being defeated narrowly by hosts India 3 – 4.