The semifinalists of the National Under 21 Tournament will only be decided when the dust settles after the completion of the preliminary rounds matches as the Taman Daya Stadium in Johor Baru on Friday.
Seven out of the eight teams participating, with the exception of Negri Sembilan, are in the running for the four available spots in the semis and teams are using the rest day to rest some tired legs and plan their strategies.
In order to ensure that the matches are played in the right spirit, and not give unfair advantage, the Tournament Director, Murugan Nair, upon consulting the team managers made changes to the final preliminary round fixtures.
Hence the two matches in each group will be played simultaneously so that teams will not be able to pick their opponents for the last four stage.
In Group A, table toppers Johor will take on Selangor while Pahang will lock horns with Negri.
Johor, who with Selangor, are on four points require just a draw to make the semis as they have a superior goal difference, thanks to their 5-0 win over Negri.
“Though a draw may suffice, we will not be on a defensive mode as that will give Selangor the initiative to attack and create problems for us,” said Johor coach Chairil Anwar Abdul Aziz.
“They have a good penalty corner battery and it will be foolish to defend. Besides playing for a draw will be risky. We will play our normal game but will not take unnecessary risks.
“Making the semis is our initial target and the players showed a marked improvement in the match against Negri. We hope the momentum carries on.”
Selangor can ill afford a draw as Pahang are expected to defeat Negri and can finish on five points, the same as Selangor if they draw Johor. For Selangor have only a one goal advantage over Pahang.
“While we are confident that we can overcome Negri, my players have been warned not to be complacent,” said Pahang coach Mohd Yazid Yunus.
“We require a win, for that is our aim and the goals will come. Playing Negri has never been easy though they have lost two matches. I expect them to be fighting for every ball and make things difficult for us.”
In Group B though, the situation is rather more complex as all four teams can make the semis.
Perak will take on Kuala Lumpur while Penang play Malacca and as it stands it is Malacca that hold the advantage.
For they have the players and ability to defeat Penang and march into the semi finals.
“On paper we are better then Penang but we cannot take their threat lightly. Penang defeated Kuala Lumpur and can inflict damage on our aspirations as they have players that do not give up easily,” said Malacca coach Chua Boon Huat.
“Just look at their match against Perak as they were 0-4 down but managed to score two goals in the later stages. That shows their tenacity and we will have to be careful.”
Kuala Lumpur have been struggling in the tournament, largely due to the fact that players in their team have to attend training with the National U18 and Project 2013 teams in the mornings.
Still that is no excuse for a team that has players of caliber to fail to score, especially from the 22 penalty corners they have been awarded that resulted in a single goal thus far.
“We have not been playing well and I guess the players are just too eager when on the pitch,” said KL coach K. Embaraj.
“Our penalty corners are poorly executed but in terms of performance there is really nothing wrong as we dominate the matches.
“It is a one off match against Perak that decides our fate, a win will give us a place in the semis. But having said that our opponents have shown that they can punish slack defending. So will will thread with caution.”
Should there be no clear winners in the matches, then expect the coaches to resort to calculators or scurry for the tournament regulations to check if their team makes the cut.
And interesting day is at store at the Taman Daya Hockey Stadium with everything to play for.
Pitch 1 – Johor v Selangor
Pitch 2 – Negri Sembilan v Pahang
Pitch 1 – Kuala Lumpur v Perak
Pitch 2 – Penang v Malacca
P W D L G A PTS
Johor 2 1 1 0 6 1 4
Selangor 2 1 1 0 6 5 4
Pahang 2 0 2 0 3 3 2
N. Sembilan 2 0 0 2 3 9 0
P W D L G A PTS
Perak 2 1 0 1 5 4 3
Malacca 2 1 0 1 3 3 3
K. Lumpur 2 1 0 1 2 2 3
Penang 2 1 0 1 3 4 3