The weather played havoc in the opening day of the 26th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia.
A downpour caused all matches to be pushed back by two hours but when play got underway , the fans were treated to world class action.
The first two matches provided surprises as India were held by Great Britain (2-2) while Australia struggled in their 1-1 draw against New Zealand.
And in the last match of the day Japan held Malaysia to a 1-1 draw in a match they could have snatched all three points had it not been the agility of S.Kumar in goal.
With all teams drawing, the focus will now shift to day two matches as teams will be out to gain full points.
Placed 14 in the FIH World Rankings, the Malaysians were up against the Japanese who are World No 16.
Both teams have come into the tournament with respected credentials recently.
Malaysia emerged champions in the recent Hockey World League Round 2 in Dhaka and Japan crowned winners in the Trinidad and Tobago edition – a qualifying process for the Hockey World League Semi-finals in June.
But the Japanese have a mission here – to erase the 4-3 defeat against the host in the 2016 edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and 7-2 demolition in the Asian Champions Trophy.
“I would have liked to get a win. The boys played a good game but we gave Japan too much time on the ball and allowed them to get back into the game,” said Malaysian coach Stephen van Huizen.
“Both sides had equal chances. We had one goal from five penalty corners and this is an area we need to pay attention.
“It was disappointing that we did not get three points.
“Against Australia tomorrow (Sunday) we have to be focused. We have to create the goal chances and make it count. It is just a start and we can only get better.”
Against the run of play, Malaysia earned the first penalty corner in the 8th minute and drag-flick specialist Muhammad Razie Abdul Rahim made it count, placing the ball to the left of goalkeeper Suguru Shimmoto. It was a great start on a cold night for the host.
The Malaysians missed a chance to double the lead three minutes into the second quarter when Haziq Samsul miscued a sitter.
However, Japan bounced back ferociously as the host lived dangerously in the next moments – midfielder Kenta Tanaka’s powerful shot in the first attempt forced goalkeeper S. Kumar to make a darting save while the second in the 29th minute bounced off the keeper’s pads with no takers.
Japan had a fair share of ball possession in the third quarter to win a third penalty corner and Shota Yamada made it count. His powerful drive took a deflection off Kumar’s pads into goal much to the delight of the Japanese camp as they strolled back to level 1-1.
The Malaysians earned a penalty corner in the fourth quarter – three minutes to the hooter but nothing came out of it. Japan was far from finish and came firing from all cylinders in search for the winning goal. Unfortunately, Kumar had his fort well guarded.
The result was certainly greeted with much joy by the Japanese but for Stephen van Huizen’s Malaysia the 1-1 draw means life is never going to be easy against the top ranked teams in coming days.
” I was disappointed with the result as we had every chance to beat Malaysia tonight,” said Japanese coach Takahiko Yamabori.
“There is no doubt we faced a lot of difficulties against Malaysia but I am very happy with the way my players came back to win a point.
“We will make some changes in the next match and hope to pull off some surprises as being the lowest ranked team here our oppositions are pretty confident when playing against us.
“Tonight we proved a point. Treat us with respect.”
In an earlier match defending champions Australia and New Zealand played out a 1-1 draw in a far from impressive encounter between the two Trans-Tasman nations in 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey tournament tonight.
Though disappointed with the result, Australian coach Colin Batch remained optimistic.
” We had seven penalty corners but could not make good use of it. The result would have been different if we had scored a couple more in the penalty corners but New Zealand defended well in the penalty corners. We don’t have any serious drag-flick specialist here and this was expected but I hope we can turn things around in the next few days,” said Colin.
“Our mission is to defend the title and we will get back on track.
“As for today’s result I must say I am quite happy. Things just could have been better for us but we failed to increase the score when we were in control of the match.
There was a little pressure on the youngsters who will come out of it as this was this was their first match. I am confident we will play a much better game with good results.”
The Kookaburras earned the first penalty corner two minutes into the game but Trent Mitton placed the ball straight into goalkeeper Devon Manchester who padded it away.
The World No 2 Australians, who are the highest ranked team in the tournament, had better possession of the ball in the first two quarters.
They had a total of five penalty corners coming their way but blew away each of it.
On the opposite end, New Zealand, ranked 8th in the world and Sultan Azlan Shah Cup champions here in 2012 and 2015, had the first clear opportunity to score in the 20th minute but Sam Lone muffed a clear direct shot which was saved by goalkeeper Tyler Lovell.
Australia’s long wait for a goal was celebrated in the 32nd minute when Tom Craig had the simplest of task in putting the ball past Manchester to go 1-0 ahead.
The Kookaburras came back in the third quarter to earn a sixth penalty corner through Jake Whetton from the top of the D but was disallowed by British umpire Paul Walker.
The Black Sticks could do little to change their fortunes around despite winning two penalty corners, the second in the early fourth quarter.
However, a full push in the 51st minute by the Kiwis saw the Australian defence crumble as substitute Dominic Newman made a darting shot that gave Lovell no chance at all to draw level 1-1.
With the clock ticking away, it was obvious that the Australians, who have been less impressive, and Kiwis who are here with an experimental side, are poised to share the points.
New Zealand coach Darren Smith was obviously please with the result.
” We had a few opportunities today. It was a good game overall and I was hoping we could just sneak through a goal or two in the fourth quarter,” said Darren.
“But I must commend the players for the hard work in winning the equaliser.
“Overall, a 1-1 draw is acceptable judging that it was a tough match.
“Everyone had expected Australia to dominate this game but it has always been a balanced game with both teams having a fair chance of scoring and ball possession. I am happy with the overall performance of my players.”
In the opening match of the day, India were held to a 2-2 draw by a Great Britain side that clawed back from being a goal down twice.
” I can learn to accept this result. Obviously playing in Malaysia we (all the teams) have to be prepared for the weather and the long delay did not affect our momentum,” said Indian coach Roelant Oltmans.
“Off course I did expect both teams to play a hard game after the first quarter.
“Overall, it was our first match in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup today and a first since November. We hope to play much better in the next matches.
“My only disappointment is we did not make good use of our chances and only earned one penalty corner throughout the match. The younge players gave a good performance, including Sumit who is making his debut with the seniors. Like I said, I can accept the result as we played well overall.”
Adverse weather conditions caused a two hour delay but once action got underway both teams adapted well to the heavy pitch.
Great Britain had a first look at the Indian goal in the 11th minute but keeper PR Sreejesh made a comfortable save.
India were awarded a penalty corner in the 19th minute but it was miss trapped.
However Manpreet Singh sent in a quick hit towards goal and the ball bounced off Great Britain custodian Harry Gibson and Alashdeep Singh was on hand to steer the ball home giving India a 1-0 lead
Great Britain were on level terms in the 25th minute as Tom Carson sent a quick hit into the far corner catching Sreejesh on the wrong foot.
The third quarter saw play largely confined to the midfield as India tried to penetrate through the middle but with no success.
India went 2-1 ahead in the 47th minute as SV Sunil laid up the ball for Mandeep Singh who tapped the ball into goal.
That got Great Britain fighting back and in the 52nd minute they were back on level for the second time, this time through Alan Forsyth.
Great Britain coach Bobby Crutchley was obviously please with the result.
” We played pretty well and did not give India much space to move with the ball. It was indeed a very tight game and I am happy with the way the players came back fighting hard after going down twice,” said Crutchley.
“I just wish we had scored in the last penalty corner and that would have made a lot of difference.
“Generally, it was a good game playing against the World No 6 who has had a great season.
With this latest team of youngsters coming through the ranks I wish to play more often in international tournaments as Great Britain.
“We have a long way and competing in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is a high level tournament of distinction. I have so much good to say of the team, the way they played against India today and I hope it gets better against Japan tomorrow.”