The battle lines have been drawn between the teams in the quarterfinals of the TNB and President's Cup in the Malaysian Hockey League. And judging from reactions from the coaches, the matches are going to be close.
Tenaga Nasional Berhad will square off against Terengganu while UniKL will be up against Sapura in the two legged quarterfinals. The winner of the TNB v Terengganu clash will take on Maybank while the winner of the UniKL v Sapura clash will be up against defending champions KL Hockey Club.
TNB coach Nor Azlan Bakar admitted that they faced a tough task against the East Coast side, having drawn the first league encounter 4-4 before winning the second 4-3. And they are likely to be without Faisal Saari for the first leg after he picked up a knock in the match against Terengganu last Sunday.
" We lost out on the league title simply because we did not play well and consistent enough throughout the league. And this is one of our biggest concerns - consistency," said Azlan.
"Though we have an experience set of players in defence like Amin (Mohd Amn Rahim), Dot (Mohd Madzli Ikmar and Sallehin (Mohd Sallehin GHani), we conceded 18 goals in the league.
"It boils down to just one thing, we lack defenders with pace and this is where we need to be tighter in defence and not let our opponents exploit the gaps. And our attack has not been potent enough as they are missing easy chances.
"As for Faisal, he is unable to cope with the pressure of having to deliver as the expectations are too high on him and other players need to do their part as well.
"I think we have enough experience and ability to win the two matches and progress to the semis as TNB has a strong tradition in knock out stages and that ought to give us the cutting edge."
Terengganu have shown that they are no pushovers going by their performances in the final two matches of the TNBMHL where they defeated Maybank before being edged by TNB.
Players like Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Mohd Shahrun nabil, Mohd Ameerullah Aziz, Fitri Saari and Azlan Misron can wreck havoc in their opponents defence if given the space.
The UniKL and Sapura match is also expected to be close as Sapura took the first match in the leage 3-1 with the young upstarts from UniKL edging home 2-1 in the second encounter.
What adds fuel to the fire is the fact that the two top scorers in the MHL will be facing off against each other, Khasif Ali for Sapura and Mohd Noor Faeez Ibrahim for UniKL, both having scored 13 goals thus far.
"They are a young side with plenty of fire and determination and we need to be wary of their ability as they have shown maturity in their play as the league progressed," said Sapura coach Tai Beng Hai.
"I do not think Khasif has lost any of his scoring proweress despite not finding the mark in our last two matches. It is a case of our opponents studying our penalty corners and reducing the openings.
"On our part we need to prevent Faeez from inflicting damage and the best way will be to reduce mistakes in defence and thereby not concede penalty corners where he is most destructive."
His opposite number, Arul Selvaraj however felt that in a two leg quarterfinal, Sapura holds the edge as they have an experienced set of coaches in Beng Hai and Stephen van Huizen.
"Frankly playing two legs is a new thing for me in terms of strategy and the two have years of experience in the MHL, in terms of planning the right stratergies," conceded Arul.
"But while we lack in experience, my players have shown that they have plenty of grit and determination and that is what I hope will carry us through to the semi finals.
"We need to be tight at the back and take the chances that come. In short we must remain relevent after the first leg and not give them a superior advantage going into the second leg."
Meanwhile in the President's Cup quarterfinal, Uniten KPT have shown that they are able to hold their own against must established teams and are looking forward to their clash against Ipoh City Council.
They drew 3-3 in the first league match before edging the Ipoh team 3-2 in the second leg. Ironically in both matches Uniten KPT led 2-0.
"We are not able to finish off our opponents despite taking a healthy lead. This is something that we need to be extra careful about in the two matches if we harbour hopes of making the last four," said Uniten KPT coach Ikmal Abdul Jabar.
WHAT THEY SAID
Wallace Tan ( Coach Maybank)
"Based on the results of the two matces between Terengganu HT and Tenaga Nasional Berhad, the quarters are expected to be close affairs. On one hand TNB have youth combined with experience while Terengganu have in their ranks players with tons of international exposure who can turn around the match with sheer individual brilliance. The plus factor for TNB is that they have a strong strikeforce but they have yet to play to their true potential while Terengganu has players that can dictate the outcome with individual ability. It will no doubt be close but TNB should be able to ride through the storm.
Verdict: TNB hold the edge
"It will be a battle of youth against experience in the match between Sapura and UniKL. Both teams have shown good progress in the league and were difficult opponents. Sapura have several foreign players that can turn the tide and that is important at this stage of the competition. On the otherhand UniKL have youngsters that are willing to run themselves into the ground and this will prove unsettling for Sapura. It is a question of recovery for Sapura while UniKL must not let Sapura run away with a big lead in the first leg. It will no doubt be a close encounter that I expect will be decided over two legs.
Verdict: Sapura hold the edge