Six teams, led by defending champions Australia, India, Great Britain, New Zealand, Japan and hosts Malaysia will battle it out over a week for the prestigious trophy named after former Asian Hockey Federation President Sultan Azlan Shah.
This tournament, inaugurated in 1983 has over the years developed into one of the most acclaimed invitational tournaments in the world.
Top teams gather here to either prepare their teams for important world assignments or blood their talented youngsters.
And being the post Olympics period, many teams are undergoing a proses of change or rebuilding but with the World League Semi Finals in June and July, there is really not much time left to experiment.
Australia, who have won the tournament for a record nines are the favourites for the title.
Retaining an experienced line up, the Australians coach by Colin Batch have also recalled veteran midfielder Eddie Ockenden and defender Mathew Swann who has been named skipper.
” It will be a tough tournament as the weather will play a major factor as well,” said Colin.
” It is always a privilege to be here and after coaching Nee Zealand for the past four years it is ironic that I lead Australia to play the Kiwis in the first match.
” It will be 22 players on the pitch that I am familiar with and I expect a good match as had always been the case when these two countries meet,”
India have a well balanced side comprising of youth and experience.
And coach Roelant Oltmans did not hide the fact that he is blooding some players ahead of two important events – the Asia Cup in October and the World League Final in December.
” It is always an interesting tournament and it is no different this time around as this gives us a perfect opportunity to try out players and tactics for the two major events on our calendar,” said Oltmans.
Players from their Junior Hockey World Cup winning squad – Harjeet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh, Sumit, Manpreet Singh Junior and Gurinder Singh , the latter three being debutants to the senior squad will add the youthful exuberance to a team skippered by goalkeeper PRSreejesh.
As for Great Britain, the tournament provides an opportunity for the combined British team to play together in a non Olympic year.
“We often only get to play as a team in the run up to the Olympics and being here provides me and the players the platform to gain invaluable insights on the demands of top level Hockey,” said Great Britain coach Bobby Crutchley.
However they have a tough opener against India and that fact was not missed by the coach.
” It is always interesting playing against India and we hope to be competitive against them.”
Meanwhile New Zealand,,who have seven players from their Sultan of Johor Cup squad are looking towards getting right a strategy that will help chart their fortunes in other major tournaments.
Coached by Darren Smith who had a stint in Malaysia as a coach of the UniKL side in the Malaysian Hockey League, the Kiwis are still trying to get their act together, based on their performances in the two Teat matches against Malaysia where they lost the first 8-2 before drawing the second 3-3.
” It is a learning curve for the team and we will take as much as we can from this tournament,” said Darren Smith.
Malaysia have yet to win the tournament and that does not put any pressure on them to do so this time around.
Their eyes are firmly set on the World League Semi Finals in London in June and coach Stephen van Huizen has always emphasised and the need of consistency.
“We need to be consistent in our performances and if we can achieve that then I believe the results will follow,” said Stephen.
It will be a litmus test of sorts for the Malaysian side as they have not played top level teams since the Asian Champions Trophy in Kuantan last October.
Japan, the lowest ranked team, 16 in the rankings, are just happy to be part of a top Hockey playing event.
” We have nothing to lose but everything to gain in this tournament,” said coach Takahiko Yamabori
The stage is set for the teams to battle it out for the coveted Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
A week long of top world class Hockey fate awaits not only fans in Ipoh but around the world.
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