Azlan Shah Cup 2019: India vs Japan preview, prediction, telecast, date, start time and where to watch online
Indian hockey fans may well have been enthralled by the Hockey Pro League up until now, but the sole focus for the next week or so will be to cheer the national team on for the first time since Manpreet Singh and co. dejectedly strode off the field following their World Cup quarterfinal defeat.
Quite a lot has transpired off the pitch since that fateful December evening - including the controversial ouster of coach Harendra Singh - but it's now time to fasten the seat belts and look forward to the action at Ipoh.
The 28th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup gets underway with the Indians taking on Samurai Japan in the tournament opener.
The Asian Games gold-medalists continue to be guided by FIH master coach Siegfried Aikman while a young Indian side will attempt to begin the year with a bang in spite of taking the field without a head coach - and with several prominent names featuring on the injury list instead of the team list.
The Indians, who finished fifth in the competition last year, begin as firm favourites by virtue of being the highest-ranked side in the tournament and would like nothing better than, to overcome the opening-match jitters with a flurry of goals to set the tone for the rest of the tournament.
The Japanese were not at Ipoh last year but a memorable hattrick from Mandeep Singh ensured that the Indians ended up winners with a 4-3 margin when the two sides met in the 2017 edition of the Azlan Shah Cup.
A few months later, at the Asia Cup in Dhaka, the Indians trounced Japan by a 5-1 margin and followed it up with an emphatic 8-0 win over the eventual gold-medalists in the Asian Games last year.
Harendra Singh's boys continued to be ruthless as ever as they trounced the Japanese by a massive 9-0 margin in a pool match of the Asian Champions Trophy which preceded the World Cup, but were not quite so dominant in the semifinals of the same tournament, managing to prevail with a 3-2 scoreline.
Analytical Coach, Chris Ciriello, who has been with the Indians for a year now will have a vital role to play alongside High-Performance Director, David John.
Veteran PR Sreejesh will share goalkeeping duties with young Krishan Pathak while Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar will play vital defensive roles in addition to taking on the responsibility of converting the drag-flicks.
Hardik Singh and Vivek Sagar Prasad have captain Manpreet Singh's able guidance to look forward to while controlling the midfield traffic, while Mandeep Singh, Simranjeet Singh, and Gurjant Singh will look to inject pace and guile up front.
The Indians will be wary of Hirotaka Wakuri and Hirotaka Zendana who both scored against Harendra Singh's side at the Asian Champions Trophy while debutant Ryosei Kato will be keen to make his mark on the international stage.
Manabu Yamashita leads the Japanese who have the experience of Genki Mitani and Kenji Kitazato to count on.
Hockey India sources have confirmed to Sportskeeda that Star Sports will not be broadcasting the event, as Star Sports' contract with the Azlan Shah Cup management ended on March 13.
Here is how you can catch all the action
Event: Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2019
Venue: Ipoh, Malaysia
Date: 23 March 2019
Time: 1:35 pm Indian Standard Time (IST)
Telecast: No telecast in India
Live Streaming: Details awaited
Live Updates: Sportskeeda
In recent times, the Indians have repeatedly asserted their dominance over the Japanese especially in pool matches, and there is no reason to believe why the Azlan Shah Cup opener should be any different. Opening matches, however, can be tricky, and since the Indians have not played competitive international hockey for over three months they may be rusty especially in the first half.