The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will be taking place in Ipoh, Perak, again this year, featuring five top 10 national hockey teams in the world alongside hosts Malaysia. With the absence of Great Britain this year, it will be the first time since 2009 (and 10th overall in history) that the tournament will not be featuring the defending champions, which means a new team will be lifting the cup on March 10. With that in mind, here’s a quick lowdown on the six teams participating in the 2018 edition.
Runners-up (1985, 2007, 2009, 2013, 2014)
The 2018 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will kick off a busy year for the Speedy Tigers, with major competitions such as the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Asian Champions Trophy and Hockey World Cup following suit. Due to the relatively bigger tournaments on the horizon, national head coach Stephan van Huizen could be forgiven if he chose not to focus on breaking Malaysia’s duck of not winning their own tournament. So far, he has been keeping cards close to his chest and not finalised his 18-man squad
The Lions have not participated very often at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, with their upcoming appearance being only their fifth in 35 years and first since 2012. It goes without saying that they would want to improve on their last appearance, where they lost to New Zealand in the final, but their preparation for the tournament has not gone well. After being beaten to the Hockey World League title by Australia in December and losing their world No. 1 ranking to the same team, head coach Carlos Retegui unexpectedly announced his decision to step down from his role
on Monday. The 48-year-old was instrumental in leading Argentina to glory at the 2015 Pan American Games, 2016 Summer Olympics and 2017 Pan American Cup, so his departure is a huge setback for the South Americans.
Winners (1983, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016)
Without a doubt, the Kookaburras are easily the favourites to win the cup again in Ipoh. Let alone their list of other impressive achievements, which is the envy of almost every team in the hockey world, they have reached the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final a record 13 times. They have also never finished below third whenever they are involved in the competition, which is a proud record they are seemingly keen on retaining, judging from their 18-member team for this year’s edition. They have called up 12 players who helped them emerge victorious at last year’s Hockey World League Final.
Not to be confused with the Great Britain team, England will be flying solo for the tournament for the first time since 2001, featuring 11 players from last year's winning team including captains Phil Roper and Ian Sloan, and David Goodfield, who netted two goals in the 4-3 final win against Australia. Despite that, they have not been in the best of form going into the 2018 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, winning only five of their last 13 official matches in the past six months.
Winners (1985, 1991, 1995, 2009, 2010)
Set to make their 21st Sultan Azlan Shah Cup appearance, the most by any team after Malaysia, India will be looking at Sjoerd Marijne for his Midas touch again. Since he replaced the sacked Roelant Oltmans last September, the Bharat Army have enjoyed a turn of fortune, defeating the Speedy Tigers to win the 2017 Men's Hockey Asia Cup and overcoming Belgium and Germany to clinch bronze at the Hockey World League Final. For the upcoming challenge, the Dutchman has assembled an experienced squad, with only Mandeep Mor and Shilanand Lakra, who both played at last year’s Sultan of Johor Cup, being called up to the senior team for the first time.
Following their rise in world hockey in recent years, which saw them compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics and qualify for this year's Hockey World Cup, the men in green have been invited to compete at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup for the first time this year. They will also enter the competition on the back of a good outing at the Five Nations tournament recently, beating Canada, Scotland and the United States to finish second behind Spain, who handed them a narrow 2-3 loss.
Watch the 2018 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on Astro Arena and Astro Go from March 3 to 10!