Azlan Shah tourney from tomorrow
IPOH: Asia''s best hockey teams will line up against world champions Australia at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which starts in Malaysia''s north on Thursday.
Asian champions South Korea head the regional cast along with India, Pakistan, Malaysia and China. Former African champions Egypt are the seventh team in the fray.
The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, the first major international tournament since the World Cup in New Delhi ended in March, will shine a spotlight on the changes made by teams that played there.
The Kookaburras, who are the world''s number-one team following their thrilling 2-1 victory over Germany in the World Cup finals, will see two players make their debut - Tim Deavin and Trent Mitton.
A number of other young players like Matt Gohdes, Jason Wilson, Glenn Simpson and Ian Burcher have also been included.
"We have purposefully chosen a young squad for this tournament. It will go a long way in exposing our squad to a number of quality teams, giving us even more experience and help add to the depth of our squad," said coach Ric Charlesworth.
The younger players will be well balanced by veterans such as Grant Schubert, Russell Ford and Kiel Brown.
South Korea, which finished sixth at the World Cup, have only won the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup once, in 1996, but have made the finals five times.
Like all the Asian teams in the tournament, the Koreans are starting their preparations for the Asian Games, which will be held in Guangzhou, China in November.
The Asian Games is the first step for teams in the region to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. Only the gold medal winner will gain an automatic berth while the others have to go through a qualifying process.
For India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Australia, the Commonwealth Games is another major assignment waiting for them in October in New Delhi.
"There is still a lot of work to be done and the eighth place finish in the World Cup is just the starting point," said India''s coach Jose Brasa.
"We are the defending champions here at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup but winning it is not the priority," he added.
The Indians have 10 players from the World Cup squad and have included several new players with the aim to expose them to the big stage.
Pakistan, which finished in last place at the World Cup, are keen to put that episode behind them.
Gone are the likes of Sohail Abbas, Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi and Mohamed Saqlain, and new coach K.M. Junaid is determined to use the younger players to form the core unit.
"But it will take time. We have rested several senior players while some have retired. We want to forget the World Cup and move forward. We need to bring back the fun to the game and hope that the players redouble their efforts to help rebuild our team," he said.
Junaid is looking forward to the match with India. In the World Cup the Pakistanis were beaten 1-4 and that defeat rankles for the Pakistanis.
"Yes I want to reverse that result here in Ipoh. I think a good win over India will be the inspiration the team needs to start their rebuilding," he added.
India are the defending champions after beating Malaysia 3-1 in the 2009 final.
All five Asian teams will be in action on the opening day. The Koreans meet Egypt, followed by an India-China match. Host Malaysia opens against Pakistan in the last match of the day.