Australia, winners of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2018. Credit: Tim Myers / Sportsmediagroup.com.au
Sharp strike earns Kookaburras tenth Sultan Azlan Shah Cup title
Australia’s Kookaburras have won the 2018 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup thanks to youngster Lachlan Sharp, who netted a last quarter goal to secure a 2-1 win over England in Saturday’s final in Ipoh, Malaysia.
It is the tenth time in 27 editions of the world famous invitational event that reigning world champions Australia have lifted the coveted trophy, with team captain Mark Knowles marking his 34th birthday with a man of the match performance in what was his final international appearance on foreign soil.
The result also serves as perfect preparation ahead of the next month’s 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, where Colin Batch’s men will be looking to win the gold medal for the sixth time in succession.
Australia (FIH Hero World Ranking:1) were in superb form throughout the competition, winning all five of their round-robin games ahead of their meeting with England in the title match.
England (WR:7) bounced back from a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Kookaburras on the opening day of the competition to remain unbeaten for the remainder of the round-robin phase.
Draws against Olympic champions Argentina and Asian champions India as well as fine wins against Ireland (4-1) and home favourites Malaysia (7-2) proved enough for a ticket to the final, where head coach Bobby Crutchley aimed to repeat the title success that he achieved with Great Britain 12 months’ earlier.
Following a cagey opening two quarters, the Kookaburras took the lead in the 38th minute when Blake Govers fired home from a penalty corner.
Twenty-year-old Sharp – who wears the number 1 shirt made famous by legendary striker and five time FIH Player of the Year Jamie Dwyer – doubled Australia’s lead in the 53rd minute, scrambling the ball home from close range after the initial effort from Knowles was saved.
England ensured the game went down to the wire when Sam Ward slammed a wonderful slap-shot past Andrew Charter in the 54th minute, but Australia held on to take the Azlan Shah Cup collection into double figures.
Kookaburras coach Colin Batch said: “It was a very cautious first half. We got an edge in front of England. They kept on coming and we held on in the end.”
Referring to his team’s six wins from six matches, Batch added: “It’s not often a team goes through in that capacity because of the quality of the tournament. We’re very pleased with that. It was a typical final, very tough, so we’re pleased with the win.”
Despite defeat, England head coach Bobby Crutchley felt that there were plenty of positives to take from the performance as he sets his sights on the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
“We are really pleased with how we battled back into the game, despite playing with only 16 players [due to injuries], our physical contribution was impressive after a tough schedule.”
About the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup
The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup has been an annual feature in the FIH calendar since 1998, although it initially started life in 1983 as a biennial event. The event is named after legendary hockey fan and former FIH Executive Board Member HRH Sultan Azlan Shah, the ninth Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia, who sadly passed away in 2014. Although the man known as ‘the father of Malaysian Hockey’ is no longer with us, both his name and legacy lives on in this ever-entertaining competition.
27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup – Ipoh, Malaysia.
Best Player: Daniel Beale (AUS)
Best Goalkeeper: George Pinner (ENG)
Top Scorer: Gonzalo Peillat (ARG) – 8 goals