The 26th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Men’s International hockey tournament which starts tomorrow until May 6 is viewed by all six teams including World No 2 Australia and host Malaysia as a competitive start to a new year in preparation towards the World League Semi-finals and Asia Cup.
Kookaburras head coach, Colin Batch, whose young side go head to head against World No 8 New Zealand on Saturday, says the tough competition in Ipoh will certainly open up the opportunity for his youngsters to explore themselves against the challenges in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup for the upcoming World League Semi-finals in London (15-25 June) and Johannesburg, South Africa (8-23 July).
Batch was coach of Black Sticks for four years but resigned last December after signing a four-year coaching extension.
Australia, Great Britain, India, New Zealand, Malaysia and Japan will vie for the coveted trophy. The Australians have won the title nine times, Great Britain in 1994, India emerged champions five times (1985, 1991, 1995, 2009 and 2010), New Zealand winners in 2012 and 2015 while Malaysia picked silver medals five times, the last being in 2014.
India, ranked No 6 in the FIH World Ranking, has arrived with seven players from the Lucknow Junior World Cup winning led several senior players including midfielder Sardar Singh, veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, defender and penalty-corner specialist Rupinderpal Singh, forward SV Sunil and midfielder Manpreet Singh.
Indian head coach, Roelant Oltmans told a packed pre-tournament press conference that whilst most teams, excluding Malaysia, have engaged junior players in their respective squads tournament, he opined that the seniors are here to guide and strengthen the Indian team.
The Indians open their campaign against Great Britain tomorrow.
Japan, who lost 7-2 to Malaysia last year, are oozing with confidence of a much better performance against the Malaysians this time after emerging champions in the World League Round 2 in Trinidad and Tobago.
Japanese head coach, Yamabori Takahiko, has thrown a strong challenge to his Malaysia counterpart, Stephen van Huizen, who guided the Malaysian Tigers to a top finish in the World League Round 2 in Dhaka.
Stephen, however, said he respects the Japanese who are ranked No 16 and expect a good and tough encounter. A strong showing in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, added Stephen, will only boost the confidence of the Malaysian players going into the World League Semi-finals in London.
WHAT THE COACHES SAID:
Stephen Van Huizen (Malaysia Coach)
“We are happy to play against teams that are ranked higher than us. This is a great opportunity for Malaysia to build on our confidence level for the World League Semi-finals in London”
Colin Batch (Australia Coach)
“The new boys in the team are quickly adjusting to the atmosphere here in Ipoh. As a coach I also look towards some exceptional performance from some players. Right now we do not really know what the opposition is like”
Roelant Oltmans (India Coach)
“We need to include experienced players to balance the side. I don’t believe in sending a young inexperienced squad to a tournament such as the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. The top ranked teams in the world are gathered here”
Yamabori Takahiko (Japan Coach)
“Our performance in Trinidad & Tobago has given us a new hope. This team is here to do its best against the top teams. We will surely take on this challenge and hope to beat Malaysia in our first match”
– Picture courtesy of Emily2U