PHOTO: Captain Scott Tupper celebrates his goal with the “Red Caribou” antlers in Canada’s 2-2 tie with Malaysia at the 2016 Azlan Shah Cup.
In recent history, when the Canadian men’s field hockey team faces Malaysia, the match usually comes with drama.
It helps when there is a packed stadium. It helps when there is history between the two teams. And it helps when the game is meaningful. And all three conditions were met Tuesday night in Ipoh, where the teams tied 2-2 at the 2016 Azlan Shah Cup.
With 3 points on the line and only one round robin game remaining for Canada and two for Malaysia after Tuesday’s match, the game had heavy implications on the final tournament standings.
The tournament format sees teams play for final placing in a one game playoff directly after group play, which means every point during the pool stage is valuable for final positioning.
Heading into Tuesday night’s match, Canada and Malaysia were tied with four points each, with Malaysia holding the game in hand. The teams were both looking for the victory to take sole possession of fourth place and better their chances at playing for a medal.
The game began with both teams getting early touches on the ball and possession in the other team’s end.
To the delight of the home crowd, Malaysia earned two corners by the fifth minute. The first was blocked by Canada, which resulted in a second corner, which was stopped by Canadian goalkeeper Antoni Kindler.
Less than five minutes later, Canada ended a spell of possession by earning two corners of its own in the 9th monute. The first was blocked; the second was flicked high by Gordon Johnston.
The game was scoreless until the second quarter, when Scott Tupper made good on a Canadian corner with a dragflick in the 21st minute to beat Malaysian keeper Hafizuddin Othman and give Canada the 1-0 lead.
The Canadians held the lead until late in the half, but with the Malaysians pressing, Canada conceded consecutive corners in the final minute. Razie Rahim pushed the ball to Shahril Saabah who drove it by Kindler to tie the game.
Malaysia added another early in the second half, when a ball was hit hard from the top of the circle to Kindler’s right, across the face of the goal and was deflected in by Nabil Noor to give the home side a 2-1 lead.
The hosts had a chance to take a two-goal lead in the 39th minute but Kindler slid out to of his net to challenge an onrushing Malaysian and make the save.
That’s when Canada began to pressure for the equalizer.
A string of good play through the midfield ending with Gabriel Ho-Garcia drawing a corner led to another Tupper dragflick in 38th minute. His attempt was stopped, but Canada earned three more in the 39th minute and once again the Malaysian keeper Othman did well to keep the out.
Ho-Garcia created another opportunity when he got loose in the midfield after a free hit in the 44th minute. He made his way past the Malaysian defenders and fired a backhand pass across the goal to Richard Hildreth who just missed.
A minute later, Canada finally converted when a was hit hard by Sukhi Panesar into the circle to Matthew Guest, who quickly shifted around a defender and put a backhand by Othman to tie the game.
Both teams earned a point and sit on five for the tournament. Canada current sits in 4th place, Malaysia in 5th due to the Canadians holding the first tie-breaking (goal differential).
The Canadians now have two days off before facing the world’s number one team, Australia, on Friday, April 15 at 6:05pm in Malaysia (3:05am ET/6:05am ET in Canada).