UniKL ‘hoping for miracle’ in next 24 hours

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They say when there is no news it is bad news.

But Premier League champions Universiti Kuala Lumpur (UniKL) are still pinning ‘hope’ that Dutch internationals Robbert Kemperman, Martijn Havenga, Valentin Verga as well as Ireland captain and goalkeeper David Harte will be allowed to feature in the TNB Cup final tomorrow against Terengganu Hockey Team (THT) at the Tun Razak Stadium.

“We have appealed to the European Hockey Federation (EHF) to allow us to include the four players for the final and as of now we have yet to receive a reply. So I would like to remain positive in the hope of getting good news even at the eleventh hour,” said UniKL Coach Arul Selvaraj at a pre-final press conference in Bukit Jalil today.

“I am keeping my options open as we are still waiting for a decision from EHF. They will don their jerseys and play in the final if we get an approval. We are hoping for a miracle and sometimes miracles do happen. However, in the event that it is rejected we will abide by the EHF regulation. The team is prepared to take on the challenge even without the four,” he added.

The defending TNB Cup champions eased through to Saturday’s final with a 9-1 aggregate win over Maybank. UniKL won the first-leg semi-finals 4-1 and romped to a 5-0 victory in the second on Thursday.

In the charity Shield tie on January 11, UniKL came back from a two-goal deficit to hold THT to a 2-2 draw in regulation time at the Batu Buruk Hockey Stadium in Kuala Terengganu but lost 3-1 in the shootout. However, UniKL won 3-1 at home at the Tengku Abdullah Stadium in Bangi.

Technically, Kemperman, Verga, Havenga and Harte had played their last match in the Malaysian Hockey League for UniKL in the semi-finals stage of the TNB Cup on Thursday. The four will return to Europe tomorrow (Sunday) as the EHF window for players to play in overseas leagues ends on February 28. Harte, Kemperman and Havenga play for SV Kampong while Verga represents Amsterda in the Dutch League.

“It is always easy to win a championship than to defend it. But in this case I think most of the players played last season and we have the experience. This is the time for the other players in the team to come out of their shadows and perform and start to take responsibly. The message to them is do your job first,” added Arul.

He added that in terms of performance, except for the 2-2 draw against Terengganu Hockey Team in the Charity Shield on January 11, UniKL’s statistics on an unbeaten record in 11 matches is admirable.

Australians Kieran Govers and Timothy Deavin will marshal UniKL’s attacking machinery in the TNB Cup final in the event the ‘fabulous four’ are not allowed to compete.

UniKL’s powerful line-up include team captain Muhammad Marhan Mohd Jalil, drag-flick specialist Muhammad Razie Abdul Rahim, Muhammad Shukri Abdul Mutalib, Izwan Firdaus Ahmad Tajuddin, Faridzul Afiq Mohd, Mohamad Ashran Hamsani, Ezad Hakimi and former internationals Baljit Singh and Harvinder Singh.

A super-fit Govers, who has scored two field goals in the league, said although there is an air of sadness and frustration at the prospect of the Dutch players and Harte not able to play in the final, the 2019 Premier League champions and TNB Cup defending champions are capable of holding up against THT.

“Obviously the absence of the four guys is a big loss. They thought the Malaysian players how to play good structure and helped Arul in what he is trying to coach and it is going to be tough especially in the heat but I think we have a good structure having been together for two years,” said Govers.

The 31-year-old Govers has three Champions Trophy wins, two World Cup titles, Commonwealth Games gold, and 2012 London Olympics bronze with the Kookaburras.

“We will stick to our plans, and run hard for each other. The four players just won’t be on the pitch but on the side lines and will help out where they can which they are good at. We just have got fewer substitutes and the guys have to play a little bit longer.”

“It is disappointing because we came through this campaign as a group and for them not to play is shattering but I know they are going to be there in spirit. As I said they have thought the boys how to play better hockey,” said the Australian.

Meanwhile, THT coach I. Vickneswaran said both teams have equal strength and acknowledged that victory depends on penalty corner conversions and a sound tactical structure.

“Personally, we are very much focusing on the final and it does not matter who is playing or not playing for UniKL as we respect them. We have set our goals and strategy for the match. It would be great if Terengganu fans can some and support us in full force,” he said.

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