MALAYSIA completed their Men’s Junior World Cup 2021 campaign with mixed feelings, bettering their 2016 achievement with an overall 8th spot in the 16-team tournament in Bhubaneswar after losing 1-4 to Spain in their last classification match at Kalinga Stadium.
After a balanced duel in the first two quarters where both teams were levelled 1-1, Malaysia failed to contain the Spanish forward line in the last quarter, conceding three goals in the space of nine minutes.
It was a tight first quarter with Malaysia starting off well, with an early goal in the match played on a wet and water-logged pitch due to the heavy downpour before the match.
Despite losing, the Malaysian team head home with heads held high after an improved performance of bettering their previous 11th placing in the last tournament.
Spain, who finished 6th in 2016, settled for 7th overall this time around.
Skipper Akhimullah Anuar Esook started off on a right note, strutting his skills with a field goal in the 4th minute to give Malaysia hopes of giving the Spanish a hard challenge.
However, Malaysia’s joy were short-lived when Eduard de Ignacio sounded the board in the 7th minute via a penalty corner which gave goalkeeper Che Shahrul Saupi no chance to react.
Upon resumption, Wallace Tan’s charges lost steam before conceding three penalty corner goals through from Pau Cunill (49th and 58th) and Pepe Cunill in the 55th minute.
The Malaysian Juniors bettered their pre-tournament target by qualifying into the quarterfinals, only to be beaten 4-0 by France before suffering a heavy 9-3 defeat at the hands of Netherlands and 1-4 to Spain, today.
In the pool matches, Malaysia got off to a good start, defeating Chile 2-1 and drawing 1-1 against Belgium before overcoming South Africa 4-3 for the 5th-8th classification match.
Overall, it was a positive outcome for the young Malaysians and coach Wallace Tan who will be heading back to the drawing board to chart the team’s preparation for the 2023 Junior World Cup which Malaysia is hosting in slightly over 12 months.
It will be the fourth time that Malaysia is staging the Men’s Junior World Cup after playing host in 1982, 1989 and 2009. Malaysia’s best performance in the tourney was 4th overall in 1979, 1982 and 2013.