Last year’s runners-up India face hosts Malaysia today in a do-or-die encounter for a berth in the finals in the 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament at Ipoh in Malaysia. India is tied for points with both Great Britain and New Zealand in the points table, and are only ranked second on basis of the higher number of goals they have scored – something that can quickly change after Britain play the Black Sticks today. India will need to win against Malaysia, anything less than a win will kill their chances of making it to the finals. The win should also come with a big margin, something that seems hard considering only Mandeep Singh(who scored a hat-trick against Japan) and Akashdeep Singh have so far seemed dangerous inside the circle. Otherwise, the Indians have largely been dependent upon their penalty corner duo of Rupinderpal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh to score goals.
After their scare against the young Japan team, where they were trailing twice before Mandeep’s hat-trick took the game away from the Japanese, the Indian team can not afford to take the Malaysians lightly.
“There should be no doubt that Malaysia is a very good side. I rate them very high,” said Indian coach Oltmans.
“No opponent can be taken lightly. You saw how Japan challenged us, but come tomorrow and we’ll be prepared for the challenge put up by Malaysia.”
Malaysia themselves have a tournament of hits and misses with three consecutive losses, including the last two against the Great Britain and New Zealand with the identical margins of 1-0, but they have had many scoring chances and have pushed the higher ranked teams harder than was expected of them.
“The results may show a downward trend, but my team has shown some sparkle and pushed the rivals. We failed to take out chances and that’s reflected in the results,” said Malaysian coach van Huizen, now looking to make amends for these lapses.
Defending champions need only a draw against rank outsiders Japan to seal their final berth, and are expected to do so easily. They have 10 points from 4 games and are yet to lose a match in the tournament. Last year, it was Australia who clinched their ninth title in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, defeating India 4-0 in 2016 final. India will be hoping to avenge the loss, and India will be hoping not to trip over Malaysia in the process.