Ipoh, Malaysia (11 April, 2016): The Australia-New Zealand match on Tuesday is expected to be explosive but the 25thSultan Azlan Shah Cup will certainly draw far more than the usual 10,000 fans when two traditional arch rivals in India and Pakistan and the Malaysia-Canada encounters will be passionately contested.
The Kookaburras and Blacks Sticks are riding high going into the seventh day of this prestigious international invitational event on the FIH calendar.
Australia leads the table standings with nine points from three consecutive wins and New Zealand second on eight points following two drawn matches against Malaysia (3-3) and Canada (1-1) and wins over Japan (2-1) and Pakistan (5-3). Five-time champions India are a shadow behind on six points.
The Australians, however, have not forgotten how the Kiwis had inflicted a deep wound in their hearts following the 3-1 penalty shoot-out victory in last year’s final after both teams level 2-2 in regulation match.
New Zealand head coach, Colin Batch, said though his side has managed to deal well in the 4-1 win over Japan on Sunday under the scorching heat with temperatures rising up to 33 degrees Celsius, he hopes the weather will take a turn for the better when they approach the match against Australia which will be played at 4pm local time.
“The rest day (Monday) will be important for us and we’re looking forward to the next challenge against Australia who we know are always tough to beat,” said Batch at a post-match press conference.
“We are playing much better now after two drawn matches and we seem to be picking up goals in penalty corners though I would be happy to see more of these opportunities converted into goals. If we don’t take these chances well than it only makes the task a little harder,” added Batch.
India have bounced back from lacklustre performances against Japan (2-1) and 1-5 defeat in the hands of Australia to edge Canada 3-1 last Sunday to stay in the hunt for a place in the final should the big guns squander along the way.
However, India’s progress will very much depend on the generosity or hard-ball game played by the Pakistanis. Pride is very much at stake here. Pakistan can take consolation that they had defeated India 1-0 for the gold medal in the final of the South Asian Games January this year.
But India’s Dutch coach, Roelant Oltmans, prefers not to say much for the upcoming match against Pakistan, except: “We are a different team here than that played in the South Asian Games. I believe we are picking up momentum after three matches and we need to move forward positively.”
A solitary point will not help either side to stay among the top four teams as the Malaysians and Canadians are lurking dangerously with an open chance of overtaking India and Pakistan.
Pakistan head coach, Khawaja Junaid, said: “Our aim is to be back at the top level. We are experiencing new players here and we have to play much better against India. They are a very good side and have qualified for the Olympics and I’m sure India will want to win as it will be good for their confidence. A Pakistan victory would also be good for our confidence and rebuilding process.”
Canadian coach Anthony Farry, however, was far more enterprising in his press conference when he said Malaysia plays with 15 players against Canada in every encounter between two nations over time.
“It’s simply amazing to see Malaysia play at home, and they have shown great form in all three matches so far. It looks like they have 15 players, not 11 on the pitch. They cover every angle on the field and play the best until the final whistle,” said Farry.
Canada skipper Scott Tupper said the rivalry between Malaysian and Canada goes back more than 20 years.
“Whenever Canada and Malaysia play, over the last two decades, the matches have always been explosive and entertaining. I believe it will be the same on Tuesday,” said Tupper.
The only vast difference between the teams is that Canada have qualified for the Olympics by finishing fourth in the World League Semi-finals in Argentina while Malaysia finished sixth in the WL Semi-finals in Antwerp and did not qualify.
Malaysian head coach, Stephen van Huizen, echoed: “For sure this match will be the turning point in our Sultan Azlan Shah campaign and we have plans for full points. Canada is in the same boat, and is no pushovers, so I believe it will be difficult but not impossible to beat them.”
Team captain and drag-flick specialist, Razie Rahim who is tied on four goals as the tournament top-scorer with Pakistan’s Arslan Qadir and New Zealand’s Nic Woods, believes his players have the edge.
“We have played well in all three matches, and the big defeat against Australia (5-1) was because of a two-minute lapse in concentration. But I believe my team-mates are ready to win our second match of the tournament after beating Japan 4-3 and keep our sights on finishing among the top-four,” said Razie.
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