As they took off their shirts and dived across the field amidst wild celebrations, shouts of ‘Viva la France’ and repeated chants of Hugo Genestet, the Frenchmen created history by reaching the final of the hockey junior World Cup at the National Stadium here on Friday.
The underdog of the competition continued its dream run in the competition, defeating Malaysia 3-2 in tie-break after the teams were level on 1-1 in regulation time. The win also proved France’s progress was no fluke — Malaysia was the third continental champion, after Belgium and Argentina, it overcame in the tournament.
It was a game of two halves with Malaysia dominating the first and France fighting back in the second. The French were better organised compared to their previous outings in the tournament but the cautiousness seemed to have taken away their sharpness. France did have its chances, creating two penalty corners, but wasted them.
Helmi Jali’s hit in from the right was deflected in by Azri Hassan to put Malaysia ahead in the fourth minute. The Malaysians attacked with a plan, creating gaps down both the flanks before centering it inside the striking circle. Captain Fitri Saari was omnipresent, marshalling the midfield and being the fulcrum of all Malaysian attacks.
Post break, France came out a different team. An ecstatic Man of the Match Genestet admitted that pep-talk during the break helped the team get back its cohesion. “The coach changed the positions of 1-2 players and we decided to play our normal game and not worry. That helped,” he said.
There were hardly any chances for Malaysia in the second half as the French defence tightened up, its passing became sharper and the attack regained the desperation that had been visible in earlier games, resulting in Jean-Laurent Kieffer’s equaliser in the 63rd minute. “I guess in the end, we just wanted to win much more than the Malaysians,” Genestet said after scoring the winning shot in the tie-break.
“It is disappointing to lose out one step away from the final. In the end it was all down to pressure. But our target had been to finish in the top-six so I am satisfied,” Malaysia coach Muhammed Dhaarmaraj said.
Earlier, Belgium whipped Korea 6-1 in a 5-8 classification match.
The results: Semifinal: France 1 (Jean-Laurent Kieffer) bt Malaysia 1 (Azri Hassan) in tie-break; 5-8 playoff: Belgium 6 (Alexander Hendrickx, Maxime Plennevaux, Mathew Cobbert, Gaetan Perez, Maxime Capelle, Dorian Thiery) beat Korea 1 (Nam Yun Seon).