It was surprises galore on Match Day 3 of the FIH Series Finals in Kuala Lumpur. First the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, Italy (World Ranking: 32), made it two wins from two with another victory over a higher-ranked team.
This time it was Brazil (WR:27) who fell foul of Italian flair, meaning that the South American team need to beat Malaysia in their final game to have any hopes of avoiding last place in Pool B.
For Italy, the result means they end the day sitting at the top of Pool B going into the last day of Pool matches.
Malaysia (WR:13) faced a China (WR:14) side who were determined not to repeat the defeat of the opening day. A fluent, flowing start by Malaysia seemed destined to steamroll the China team but Head Coach Kim Sang Ryul’s team dug deep, displaying an impressive range of peanlty corner routines.
Brazil v Italy
A feisty first quarter that saw a lot of forward, attacking play but many stray final passes was finally set alight in the ninth minute by a stunning strike from Italy’s Julian Montone. The forward picked up the ball and took route one, bursting into the circle and shooting past Rodrigo Faustino in the Brazil goal.
The second quarter followed much the same pattern. Brazil won the first penalty corner of the game but, like in the previous game, goalkeeper Francesco Padovani is in form and clearly up for this challenge. In fact, it was Italy who nearly doubled their lead when Francois Sior shot from wide on the left of the circle and his fierce reverse stick shot pinged off the post, to the relief of Faustino.
Montone made it a brace when he struck a second time, just six minutes into the second half. This was another instinctive goal, the forward strode into the circle and struck the ball sweetly into the corner of the goal, giving the ‘keeper no chance of saving.
The third goal was pure skill as Player of the Match Mattia Amorosini took the ball round several defenders’ flailing sticks and then lifted the ball neatly over the keeper. The result puts Italy at the top of Pool B, although a win for Malaysia later in the day would put the host nation ahead on goal difference. The final round of pool matches will bring these two undefeated teams together and should prove an intriguing contest.
A disappointed Patrick van der Heijden gave his own brutal assessment of Brazil’s performance: “That was not our best game at all, we didn’t perform as a team. We now need to prepare for our next game because that just wasn’t good enough.”
In contrast, jubilant two-goal hero Julian Montone was eagerly looking forward to the final match against Malaysia. “We won our first game and that was a surprise but we knew this was an important match to win. So we prepared very carefully and of course, I was very happy to score two goals.
“We don’t know much about Malaysia but we love playing in front of the crowd and I think we can win it.”
China v Malaysia
Five goals in the last quarter turned a game that looked to be going all Malaysia’s way into an absolute thrilling encounter between two good Asian teams.
As they lined up for the national anthems, there was visible tension on the faces of the Malaysia team but these nerves were quickly dispelled when Fitri Saari fired home from a penalty corner to put his side ahead in the fourth minute. This was just seconds after Malaysia had seen a shot rattle off the side post. Just a minute later, Yan Rongyao in the China goal was called on to make an astounding diving save to keep his side within touching distance of the host nation. For the opening minutes of this encounter it seemed as if China were going to be steam-rolled by the Speedy Tigers.
But China are resilient and soon they began to create their own chances. They were rewarded with a series of penalty corner but the shots were either chased down or fired wide. As the half progressed China worked hard to take the fire out of the Malaysia attack and their tactics seemed to work as Malaysia were unable to find a way past Yan Rongyao.
The second half started in similar fashion. Malaysia went on the attack as the whistle blew and their flowing play and intuitive passing and running soon created a chance, which Firhan Ashari had no hesitation in converting.
China’s persistence paid off when they won penalty corner and Lin Changliang was able to convert a nice variation. China were unlucky not to make it 2-2 when a nice attacking move saw goalkeeper Hairi Rahman called on to make a great save.
The China recovery began with a penalty corner goal from Ao Weibao, taking the score to 2-2. Malaysia answered with a goal from Player of the Match Tenku Tajuddin – score 3-2. China came back with a penalty corner from Du Talake – score 3-3. Malaysia took the lead with a second from Tajuddin, then China scored a fourth penalty corner, this time from the stick of Dong Yang.
“We need to work on our defensive penalty corners,” said Razie Rahim. “That is our key learning point that we must take into tomorrow’s game.”
China’s goalkeeper Yan Rongyao said: “No matter how many goals they scored, I knew our players would give everything to get those goals back. We will play tomorrow’s game with the same energy.”
FIH Series Final
Sunday 28 April – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Result: Match 07
Brazil 0, italy 3 (Pool B)
Player of the Match: Mattia Amorosini (ITA)
Umpires: Saleh Al Balushi (OMA), Ilanggo Kanabathu (MAS)
Result: Match 08
China 4, Malaysia 4 (Pool B)
Player of the Match: Tangku Tajuddin (MAS)
Umpires: Sebastian Michielsen (BEL) Johannes Berneth (GER)
Matches taking place on Monday 29 April (local time):
Canada v Belarus
16:05 Wales v Austria
18:05 Brazil v China
20:05 Malaysia v Italy For the full match schedule here