* Kumar stops Japan thrice in Malaysia’s 3-2 win over Japan in semifinals

* Fitri Saari  nets the winner

National No 1 goalkeeper S. Kumar once again came up with his heroics to guide Malaysia to the World League semi-finals in Belgium in June – when in denied Japan thrice in their 3-2 win over penalties in the World League Second Round semi-finals in Singapore on Saturday.

The Tampin-born Kumar, described as a world class goalkeeper, was a stumbling block to the Japanese at the Sengkang Stadium in Singapore in a match which could have gone either way. Normal time ended with the score tied at 1-1 – the first time Malaysia failed to score an outright win in the tournament.

While Kumar was stopping the Japanese, Kelantan-born Fitri Saari was the toast of the Malaysians when he netted the winner. The first thing Fitri did after netting the winner was to head straight to Kumar to give him a hug.

Before the match, the 36-year-old Kumar, who wants to help Malaysia play in the Olympics before calling quits, had an inspiring message for his  teammates: I will make two or three saves but you (teammates) must not miss your chances.”

It was nail-biting 1-1 draw in regulation time as Malaysia, ranked 12th in the world, found the going tough against the gritty Japan, ranked 15th.

Although Malaysia are through to the semi-finals of the World League which will be played in June, another litmus test awaits the Malaysians when they play Poland in the World League Second Round final on Sunday (8pm). The top three teams in Singapore will advance to the World League semi-finals, giving Japan hope of at least a third place finish.

Japan will face Oman for the third slot. Oman were at the receiving end against Poland in their semi-final match and were soundly beaten 7-0

Malaysia coach Tai Beng Hai was quick to admit that his team face a “mammoth task” against Poland ho drew 4-4 and won 4-3 in two friendly matches played in Kuala Lumpur before heading to Singapore.

In the semi-final match against Japan, Malaysia led 1-0 through a field goal by Marhan Mohd Jalil after only minutes of play. The early goal failed to rattle the Japanese who fought back and drew level 10 minutes later through Kenta Tanaka.

“We were lucky to win,” said Beng Hai. “But it does not mean we did badly either when you consider we hit the post four times. If the any of the four had gone in it would have been a different scoreline and a different story.”

In the same breathe Beeng Hai admitted “Kumar won the match for Malaysia”.

“Poland is a tough team and tough nut to crack. We will need to grab all scoring opportunities and score. Our aim is to be champions in Singapore after we achieved our initial target of making the final,” added Beng Hai.

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