LAHORE - Pakistan will take on Argentina in the 21st Azlan Shah Hockey Cup Tournament on Thursday.
Seven hockey teams across the world, including Pakistan , India, South Korea, England, New Zealand, Argentina and the host Malaysia would contest for the top honours. Pakistan would play its second match against New Zealand on May 27 while third and fourth matches would be played on May 28 and 30 with South Korea and Malaysia respectively. Pakistan fifth match would be with the arch-rival India on May 31 and will face England in the sixth match on June 02.
Pakistan , the Asian Games champions and last year’s runner-up in Malaysia, are in turmoil with star players Shakeel Abbasi and Rehan Butt ruled out for Ipoh. The pair was not selected as they are currently the subject of a disciplinary inquiry by the Pakistan Hockey Federation after playing in the World Series in India earlier this year.
Earlier, in 2003 the Pakistan hockey team had won Azlaan Shah Hockey tournament by defeating Germany. Pakistan had won this title three times so far. Favourites Great Britain will be looking for a successful tune-up for the London Olympics in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.
The tournament, staged annually in the northern city of Ipoh, serves as the final warm-up before the Olympic competition begins in July, and world number four Great Britain are the highest-ranked squad in the field. Britain, who came in third in last year’s tournament, will have to contend with an India side that are hitting their stride, as well as Pakistan , South Korea, Argentina, New Zealand and hosts Malaysia.
Malaysia are the only squad in the tournament that failed to qualify for London 2012. Reigning champions Australia have not made the trip to Ipoh this year. Under coach Jason Lee, Britain have been ramping up their Games preparations in hopes of winning gold on home soil. They last topped the podium at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Britain played an Olympic test event in London last month that also involved top-ranked Australia, world number two Germany and India. They are expected to make a strong run in Ipoh with the likes of Ashley Jackson, Robert Moore and Richard Mantel driving the team, but former cup winners such as India loom as potential spoilers.
India have won the cup five times since 1985, most recently in 2010. Under Australian coach Michael Nobbs, the Indians have shown signs of resurgence and their wins in the Asian Champions Trophy last year and Olympic qualifiers in February have boosted expectations.
Nobbs said he was looking forward to the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup as the squad needed further top-class contests to prepare for London. “We are lacking in top matches to practise and this tournament offers the best opportunity to test the players at the highest level,” he said on arrival with the team in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.
India’s penalty corner specialist Sandeep Singh said he hoped the pitch would not be slippery, so that the team could work on penalty corner execution. “It will be a great opportunity to test our penalty corner batteries against top opposition. I will get the goals if the condition of the pitch is OK,” he said.