The recently concluded 21st Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament was undoubtedly the best of the series of tournaments held in recent years.
Seven teams participated in the tournament including host Malaysia with Malaysia being the only team that didn’t qualify for the London Summer Games.
All of the teams had come to gauge their players against the other Olympic qualifiers. Some came to accustom themselves to playing on the new blue Astroturf pitch which will be used at this year’s Olympics.
Hence the quality of the games played this year was well above par compared to previous years’ tournaments.
Black Sticks from New Zealand won the Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy for the first time after 21 competitions when they beat Argentina 1-0 in an exciting final which got fans glued to their seats.
Despite Argentina playing an attacking game the smart playing Kiwis denied the Argentines the scoring touch.
India took third place defeating Great Britain 3-1.
Korea defeated Malaysia 3-2 to take fifth position while Pakistan was last.
Overall the Malaysian team was more spirited and creative this year compared to previous SAS outings.
Coach Tai Beng Hai’s mixed bag of seniors and juniors proved potent, as they were more effective upfront.
Malaysia’s opening game saw a 1-1 draw against Korea. Their second match against World No. 4, Great Britain was another 3-3 draw.
The home team’s first loss was against India 3-2 in the 4th game. But with their skill, stamina and creativity in place, their fans had plenty to cheer for. All was forgiven when they defeated World No. 8, Pakistan 3-2 the following day. The Malaysians were ecstatic.
Malaysia’s consecutive losses of 4-1 to New Zealand and 1-0 to Argentina prompted the Sultan to comment that the players needed to improve their defence since they were conceding goals too easily.
The Sultan acknowledged that the young players had great potential and, therefore, they should be given the “necessary exposure.”
The tournament this year was almost carnival like.
Held on the sidelines of the tournament was the AHF-MHC Technical Officials course attended by 35 participants from 14 Asian countries. It was conducted at the Raja Ashman Shah Hockey Academy, next to Stadium Azlan Shah.
At the same time, the Raja Ashman Shah Cup National Indoor Hockey Tournament was held at Stadium Indera Mulia. The tournament saw 22 teams from throughout the country participating.
If you are looking to next year’s SAS Tournament, do plan ahead as Ipoh is slated to host Asia Cup 2013. Two superb international tournaments in one calendar year, you can’t ask for more.