Though the results of the two friendlies did not favour Malaysia, losing the first 2-1 and drawing the second 2-2, Malaysia will be the favourites to make Sunday's final where they are expected to cross swords with Poland, a team that denied India a place in the semi finals of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But that is another story.
The focus by the Team Coach and MHF has been winning the Champions Challenge and moving up the rankings. However that will not be the case even if we emerge Champions in Dublin as we are to far behind the other teams at present.
Malaysia is currently ranked 16 in the FIH rankings with 965 points. Lets focus on the rankings between 11 and 20 with the list as follows.
11 - Canada - 1147 points
12 - India - 1075 points
13 - China - 1070 points
14 - Japan - 1030 points
15 - South Africa - 1010 points
16 - Malaysia - 965 points
17 - France - 813 points
18 - Ireland - 693 points
19 - USA - 620 points
20 Poland - 530 points
The points available in Dublin are 120, 110,100,95,90,85,80,75 in that order for the Champions to the eight placed team. So even with 120 points as Champions we move to 1085 points and Japan who are on 1030 points can collect a minimum 75 points if they finish last and will get a total of 1105 points, thus they remain above us.
So we can move up to 13th in the World Rankings, albeit temporary, if we win the tournament pushing India and China down to 14th & 15th places respectively with Japan in 12th spot.
But things will change again later this year with teams like Canada, India, China, Argentina, Belgium, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa playing in the Champions Challenge 1 and the minimum points available for the eight ranked team there is 110 points.
France took second spot in Group B when they defeated Austria 5-2 and play Poland in the other semi final.
Malaysia opened the scoring in the 8th minute with Ismail Abu getting the tap in off a short corner drag flick. The Malaysians continued to dominate and create chances but when they conceeded two consecutive short corners in the 19th minute which was the golden chance for Russia to equalise but a sturdy Malaysian defence stood strong. Malaysia secured their second goal with five minutes to go when an initial great shot was saved and luck was on the Malaysian side and the rebound attempt by Mohd Hanafi trickled over the line.
Russia came out fighting in the second half and hunting for goals the first of which came in the 42nd minute of play when marksman Sergeev was on hand once again to demonstrate his drag flicking abilities to put his side within one goal. Russia were on parity just sixty seconds later when a tired looking Malaysian defence allowed Russia to open up space to secure a soft reverse stick effort which bobbled into the goal from Mamoshkin.
Despite this renewed energy and surge from Russia it was Malaysia who took the lead once again in the 53rd minute when a penalty corner rebound put Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin in a position to chip the sliding keeper but Russia were once again quick to respond four minutes later when Sergeev drag flicked once again to level at three all.
The remainder of the match ensued with end to end attacking style hockey as both sides hunted for the winner putting on display the most exciting hockey of the match, but it was Malaysia whose persistence paid off when Saari found space at the top left of the circle to fire home off the back foot high into the net leaving the keeper with no chance.