28th Sultan Azlan Shah will be virtually an Asian affair as big teams are playing FIH Pro League
The 28th Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament may have lost some of its gleen as top hockey outfits, including Australia, Great Britain, Germany and New Zealand, are not competing this time because of their participation in the inaugural edition of the FIH Pro League.
Besides these teams, financial constrains forced South Africa to withdraw from the competition at the last minute and Pakistan had also not confirmed its participation this time.
While Poland came in for South Africa to represent Europe, Canada will represent Americas in this annual tournament.
As such, the competition will be mainly between the top four Asian teams – Japan, Malaysia, India and Korea – besides Poland and Canada.
Ahead of the Indian team’s departure for Ipoh, skipper Manpreet Singh and his team players expressed their eagerness to compete in the first marquee event of the year.
“It’s the first tournament of the season and naturally we are quite eager to make a positive start as it will give us the right momentum ahead of the FIH Men’s Series Finals Bhubaneswar Odisha 2019. We have worked really hard in the camp, often training at noon to get used to playing in the hot and humid weather conditions that we are going to experience in Ipoh,” expressed Manpreet.
India starts its campaign against Japan on March 23 and will be looking to continue its winning form against the Japanese side whom it last met during the Hero Asian Champions Trophy last year. “We will be playing the Asian Games Champions Japan in the opening match of the tournament and we will have to be at our best to beat them. We have a lot of youngsters in the team, it will be a great test for them and us as a unit,“ said Manpreet Singh, who will be assisted by vice captain Surender Kumar.
For Japan’s chief coach Siegfried Aikman the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will be a platform for the team to test where it stands in international hockey ahead of this year’s big ticket events.
Ranked 18th in the world, the Azlan Shah Cup will be a great opportunity for Japan to tune up for this year’s important tournaments like the Hockey Series finals, and the Olympic qualifier, later in the year.
“We are in a very positive phase since the last two years. The team mood is optimistic. For us, the Azlan Shah is a very prestigious tournament and a great platform to see where we stand in international hockey,” Siegfried told a media channel, the Dragflick.
Japan has played in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup only thrice, first in 1987, where it finished 6th, second in 2016, where it finished 7th and third in 2017, where they finished sixth, respectively.
Japan will be led by experienced Manabu Yamashita (168 caps). The team includes 14 players from last year’s Asian Games champion team besides two talented young players, out of whom one will make his senior debut at the Azlan Shah Cup.
The Indian team will play its second game against Korea on March 24 and play its nemesis and Asian Games Silver medalist Malaysia on March 26. “Though we are the highest ranked team in the tournament, we cannot get ahead of ourselves and have to take one match at a time rather than thinking directly about the final as we have some tough encounters to begin with. Each step is important and the objective will be to ensure that we come out victorious in all our matches,” Manpreet added.
Manpreet believes that Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 was a major learning step for the team and many players who have been given a chance are in a better position to handle pressure situations. “The World Cup was a great learning for all of us. Though, we weren’t able to go beyond the Quarter Final, I believe the world took a note of the immense potential of a young team who played with all their heart. At this camp, we have looked back at our mistakes and have also tried to develop some new combinations that can help us improve our game. We are confident of our chances of winning but don’t want to get complacent,” he said.
The host Malaysia will be without its star goalkeeper S. Kumar and three other senior players. Still, the Malaysians are a tough side to play on the home turf and Indian players know it well.
India’s record against Canada and Poland in the recent past has been of mixed fortunes. While in the 2018 World Cup India won comfortably, yet the encounter in Rio 2016 Olympic games may be hard for the Indians to forget.
– PTC NEWS