THE KOREAN players may have come fresh from their national league with no practice matches or training stints, but that is not going to stop them from defending their Sultan Azlan Shah Cup title they won when the tournament was held in 2019.
The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is back after a two year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and Korean coach Shin Seok Kyo, a former international who has played in the tournament and coach for the last twelve years, said Korea rated the tournament highly.
Korea will be competing for the 21st time and having won thrice (1996,2010, 2019), runners up four times (1999,2000,2001,2005) and third four times (1998,2004,2013 and 2014).
“We have come here without any friendly matches or training stint. We assembled five days before our departure to Malaysia after the end of the national league. The five days was spent checking on the condition of the players and hardly had anytime for training ,” said Shin in Ipoh today.
“We arrived in Ipoh in the wee hours of the morning and will have our first training session this evening.
“But we have come here to win the tournament, like all the teams here.”
Shin, 64, said that he has selected 18 players from a pool 45 players and insisted that 80% of the team are his first choice players.
“I have a few young players in the team too and thus it is a blend of experience and youth. I had three senior players who are injured but will be available for the Nations Cup.”
Shin said this tournament also serves as a preparation for their World Cup campaign in India in January.
“We are also competing in the Nations Cup in South Africa later this month and I may introduce another two young players as I will bring a squad of 20 players.
“Our ultimate goal is to qualify for the Paris Olympics and the Hangzhou Asian Games is utmost important where we have to win or win a place through the qualifiers for the Olympics in January 2024.”
On the opening match against Malaysia on Tuesday, Shin said they against familiar opponents and it has also been close encounters.
“Malaysia is fast rising to be a formidable team under my good friend coach Arul. It has always been close encounters and I expect the same.”
Malaysia last met Korea at the Asia Cup hockey in Jakarta in May where they met thrice. In the first match they drew 2-2 and in the Super round match won 5-4 and in the final Malaysia saw their hopes to win the gold medal dashed when the went down 1-2.
It was Malaysia’s second silver medal in the Asia Cup and for South Korea, it was their fifth gold since 1982.
“We are prepared for another tough and exciting match and hope to emerge winners. But playing Malaysia, especially at home will not be easy.”
Malaysia could be surprised to see 39-year-old Korean captain and striker Namyong Lee with 285 caps, playing in defence.
“I have been trying out several variations with the team and one option is to use Lee from then back because of experience and vision of the game,” hinted.