Top hockey nations from around the world are set to participate in the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2016, which will start Wednesday in Ipoh, Malaysia. The competition dates back to 1983, but the tournament became an annual event only after 2005.
The 25th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will witness seven teams -- India, Pakistan, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan -- battling it out for the prestigious title.
Teams like India, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, who have already qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics, will use this tournament as practice ahead of the mega event in August. They will also experiment with their teams, and find their best players ahead of the Olympics.
Other teams such as Malaysia, Pakistan and Japan will want to show that they belong to the elite group, playing some brilliant hockey and giving it their all to win the title. Make no mistake, Pakistan are one of the most talented sides in world hockey, and Malaysia, at home, are always a dangerous unit. Hence, a brilliant competition is expected to take shape for the next 10 days.
India have always been one of the best teams in Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, winning the title five times. But they have their task cut out with teams like Australia and New Zealand as serious contenders for the title this year.
Australia, who have played some impressive hockey for the last 12 months or so, have some top class players, and will be the team to beat in the competition. Australia are ranked number one team in the world.
India, ranked seventh, can win the title as a former captain said, but they need to come up with an improved performance to clinch their sixth Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. India have provided some rest to their senior players, and have a mixed bag of young guns and experienced players, but their objective remains the same, to bring home the trophy.
New Zealand and Canada have also played some quality hockey in the past, which has helped them clinch Rio Olympics berth as well. New Zealand, ranked eighth, are going to make life tough for other teams in the competition. They defeated Australia last year to clinch the title, and will be looking for a similar performance this time around as well.
Other teams such as Pakistan will have a thing or two to prove in the competition, after failing to qualify for the Olympics. Malaysia will be brilliantly supported by the home crowd, who love the sport. Japan remains to be the lowest-ranked team (16) in the competition, but they will also be keen to create some upset in the competition, winning a few matches.
Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2016 Schedule
Pakistan vs Canada – 1:35 p.m. IST
India vs Japan – 3:35 p.m. IST
New Zealand vs Malaysia – 6:05 p.m IST
India vs Australia - 1:35 p.m. IST
New Zealand vs Canada - 3:35 p.m. IST
Japan vs Malaysia - 6:05 p.m IST
April 8 – Rest Day
Japan vs Canada - 1:35 p.m. IST
New Zealand vs Pakistan - 3:35 p.m. IST
Australia vs Malaysia - 6:05 p.m IST
Japan vs New Zealand - 1:35 p.m. IST
Australia vs Pakistan - 3:35 p.m. IST
Canada vs India - 6:05 p.m. IST
April 11 – Rest Day
Australia vs New Zealand - 1:35 p.m. IST
India vs Pakistan - 3:35 p.m. IST
Canada vs Malaysia - 6:05 p.m. IST
New Zealand vs India - 1:35 p.m. IST
Australia vs Japan - 3:35 p.m. IST
Pakistan vs Malaysia - 6:05 p.m. IST
April 14 – Rest Day
Japan vs Pakistan - 1:35 p.m. IST
Australia vs Canada - 3:35 p.m. IST
India vs Malaysia - 6:05 p.m. IST
April 16 (Final day)
5th-6th place – 1:10 p.m IST
3rd- 4th place - 3:35 p.m. IST
1st-2nd place – 6:15 p.m.
Venue: All the matches shall be played at Azlan Shah Stadium, in Ipoh
TV listings: India - Star Sports 1/HD and Star Sports 3/HD