Will the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, the first international tournament of 2015 see the Indian senior men’s hockey team crown themselves in glory? Well, it’s a tough question to answer as the Sardar Singh-led side is unlikely to have a stroll in the park at Ipoh given the fact that the 2015 edition features world champions Australia and the likes of New Zealand and Korea, both ranked higher than ninth ranked India.
Korea, an Asian powerhouse, will be first on the cards for India. The Koreans may not match the Indians so much in tactical play, but they more than make up for that with their supreme fitness and quick interchange of passes, courtesy their ability to play the fast-paced stuff for a longer period.
Fitness of the Indian players cannot be questioned
Having said that, the Indians are also one of the fittest teams around and if the Men in Blue can make the most their scoring chances, getting past their Asian opponents should not be that difficult. New Zealand is another higher ranked side that India faces in their second match. The Paul Van Ass-coached side can draw fond memories of their magnificent 3-2 win over New Zealand in the semifinals of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, especially when you consider that India were trailing 0-2 in the first twenty-odd minutes of play.
Azlan Shah Cup: First two games will hold the key for India
What will be of interest is whether India can glean full points from their first two games, if they can rack up wins, the road to the final should be a much smoother for them. World number 12 and hosts Malaysia and world number 15 Canada may have their good days in office, but the way India have shaped up over the last few months, it is unlikely that there will be an upset. India’s last game against Australia will be keenly watched, but by then the standings of all teams would be more or less clear. India’s newest coach has said that the team is looking to make improvements keeping in mind the 2016 Rio Olympics, and given this we could well see different strategies being employed by Paul Van Ass. India have an 18-member squad which means a lot of players can be rotated around and it gives the coach adequate opportunities to see how he can strike a balance among all those he has at his disposal.
Prospects of India-Australia final clash
India have won the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup five times and the last time they won it was in 2010 when they were declared joint winner alongside Korea after the final was abandoned owing to rain. The lip-smacking prospects of a India-Australia final is very much on the cards after the last two editions saw Australia and hosts Malaysia squaring off in the final with the Kookaburras winning it on both occasions. Here’s looking forward to a good performance by the Indian hockey squad.