Japan, the reigning Asian Games gold medalist, is looking forward to a strong showing at the 28th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup from March 23 to 30 in Ipoh.
And as if to emphasise their seriousness, they will bring 15 of the 18 players that edged Malaysia in shoot out to win gold at the Jakarta Asian Games last September.
Leading their charge will be none other than Seren Tanaka who was voted the best player in Hockey Japan League 2017 and 2018.
Another name that Malaysians will remember is Kazuma Murata, who scored the winning shootout goal against Malaysia in Jakarta.
“We want to finish as high as possible and hope to make the finals. That will be a great challenge for us,” said coach Siegfried Aikman.
“ We want to play good hockey, reduce the amount of goals we get and we want to improve our play.”
However two key players, Kenta Tanaka and Yuma Nagai are playing in Holland and are not available for the Azlan Shah Cup.
Coach Siegfried Aikman when contacted in Japan said that his team will arrive on March 18 and play a friendly against South Korea before the tournament.
“We will have tough matches against all the teams, specially India because they are the highest ranked team with the biggest budget and they made it to the quarterfinals in the recent World Cup.
“Then, of course there is Canada and Malaysia because they are close to their main target this year, both have to make it to the finals if they want to qualify through the series for the Olympics, “ added Aikman.
“As said ,we are the lowest ranked team, so each match will be a challenge for us but we made steps forward and we hope to show it.
“Teams are very competitive to each other. Everyone can beat the other but we are in another stage of our preparations for the Olympic Qualifiers.
“Malaysia and Canada must be almost ready to shine, while we are just starting our preparations for our qualifier in India with India and South Africa in our series as opponents”
The Dutch coach said, with their focus being on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, performance and not results matter to them at this stage.
“But our main target is next year’s Olympic Games and that’s why we have a selection of 33 players and at each tournament or trip we will bring different players,” he explained.
Aikman also voiced his concerns on the withdrawal of South Africa from the tournament.
South Africa withdrew as it was learned that each player was told to fork out 800 Rand for airfares each and they were not willing to do so.
“It’s not good for hockey that teams are withdrawing from major tournaments, like Pakistan did, and now South Africa, said Aikman.