The 18th edition of the Sultan Azlan Trophy invitation tournament goes on centre-stage on Sunday at Ipoh with India, silver medallist last year to Argentina, taking on Egypt in the opening tie. With only five teams in the fray and none from Europe, and the usually formidable Aussies not entering, the competition has its aura diminished to some extent.
By S. Thyagarajan
Yet, the relevance of the event as the showpiece of competitive in the continent cannot be disputed. For the three oufits, India, Malaysia and Pakistan, the nine day event carries tremendous significance in view of the forthcoming Asia Cup, shifted from Dubai to Kuantan, next month. The winner gets an automatic berth to the World Cup to come off in New Delhi in March next year.
With Argentina, the reigning champion, out of contention this time, India is reckoned as the favourite, given its quality and content of its recent performances. The 2-0 series win in England, the silver medal in the four nation event at Jalandhar, and a modicum of successes in the tour of Australia have all generated a ray of hope. How well the gangling penalty corner striker, Sandeep Singh, will marshal his forces against the rest, New Zealand, Pakistan, Malaysia and the newcomer to the tournament, Egypt.
It is also a litmus test for Pakistan, which is crafting a comeback trail after a seires of poor performances. Zeeshan Asraff returns as captain to the squad which retains impeccable strikers in the calibre of Shakeel Abbasi and Tariq Aziz. New Zealand is fielding an experimental team with a sprinkling of Olympians. As always the Kiwis will be tough and tenacious.
Hit by injuries to key players, Malaysia is striving hard to achieve a level of consistency with a clear goal to all out only in the Asia Cup at Kuantan. Egypt is figuring for the first time in this tournament, which was inaugurated in 1983. Observers view Egypt as an unpridctable opponent for anyone.
Sunday's Matches: India v Egypt; Pakistan v Malaysia.