National hockey captain Sukri Mutalib is a deeply disappointed man. The team’s failure to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics means he will never see Olympics action. Still, he feels that it’s not all doom and gloom.
Sukri said that although players of his generation like S. Kumar, Razie Abd Rahim, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin Tengku Abdul Jalil and Nabil Fikri Mohd Noor will not be around to play in the Olympics, they still have the honour of being the generation that qualified for the Asia Cup final for the first time and also won two silver medals in the Asian Games.
He said the team were still on the right track for future successes and hoped the next generation would be inspired to do better.
“The Olympics is the dream for any high-performance athletes. I’m disappointed to miss out, but we have to accept the fact that we can’t get everything in life, ” said the 33-year-old, who made his national debut in 2007.
“For me, I see some positives. Our rankings have improved so much. For the first time in 15 years, we are ranked 11th in the world after languishing in the middle since 2004. In 2010 and 2018, my generation qualified for two Asian Games finals.
“We were also the first team in history to qualify for the Asia Cup final in 2017. Even though this generation didn’t qualify for the Olympics, we did create history by qualifying for these finals.
“It was not even achieved by the teams who were in the Olympics. The current crop of players can still be an inspiration for the next generation.”
Malaysia had their best chance to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Games when facing Britain in the two-leg playoffs in London. However, they looked well below par and were soundly beaten 9-3 on aggregate.
Sukri said the players weren’t consistent for 120 minutes and were nervous in front of goal throughout the two-leg affair.
“The players did give their full commitment to the cause by training hard.
“But in a game, you can’t be playing well in the first two quarters, and then drop in the next two. Consistency is something we have to work on if we want to compete against the best.”
Asked what’s needed to improve standards, he said it was time to send players overseas.
“Players should feature overseas, especially in Europe. Leagues there are more systematic and players get to compete week in, week out.
“Or else, our league needs to be improved. If we have a longer season and more clubs participating, we will have a bigger pool for the national team.”
As for his future, Sukri said he hadn’t decided yet as he wishes to focus on his duties as a teacher and coach.
“I’m going to carry on teaching at the Bukit Jalil Sports School. If the team need my services in the future, I will continue playing. It’s always an honour to don the national jersey.”