Absence of Big Teams Rob Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Much of its Sheen
The 30th Sultan Azlan Shah Cupis back at Ipoh after a three-year hiatus – it has carved out a good reputation as one of the long-running Invitational Tourneys since its inception in 1983. The tournament, which started off as a biennial event, became an annual affair since 1998, where the who’s who of world hockey showcase their hockey skills. But the 30th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup has been robbed much of its sheen by the absence of top teams such as Australia, India, England and New Zealand. In fact, this is the first time in many years that the tournament is wearing a depleted look – hosts Malaysia (10th ranked) is the only top-10 side. Three-time champions Pakistan (18th ranked), defending champions and 12th ranked South Korea, 14th ranked South Africa, and 20th ranked Egypt would be slugging it out for glory.
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This is also the first time that two African teams are taking part – Egypt is making a comeback after last featuring in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2010, while South Africa’s last appearance was back in 2014. Pakistan are also making their first Sultan Azlan Shah Cup appearance in six years since finishing fifth in the 2016 edition. Over many decades, the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) – the organisers of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup – has been doing a commendable job of hosting this tournament at regular intervals with a fair amount of success. It is learnt that the organisers extended invitations to teams such as Australia, India and England but most teams probably choose to focus on the FIH Pro League and their preparations for the upcoming World Cup in January 2023 in India.
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Interestingly, at the 2019 edition when the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup was last held, India was the lone top side competing alongside hosts Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Canada, and debutants Poland. The last time world number one Australia and world number six England played in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup was back in 2018 when the Kookaburras claimed glory pipping England 2-1 in the final – it was also the last time when South American powerhouse Argentina played in the tournament.
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With the International Hockey Federation (FIH) awarding ranking points for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup for the first time this year, this move could pan out to be a fillip for world’s top teams to be part of this prestigious invitational tournament.