IPOH, Malaysia: Unbeaten New Zealand’s charge into the finals of Malaysia’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup bodes well for the squad’s fortunes in the London Olympics, their coach said on Friday.
“The timing of the tournament is perfect for our Olympic preparation so we have come into the competition ready to excel,” Kiwi coach Shane McLeod said.
New Zealand last won an Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976 and have previously only ever made it to third place in the annual Sultan Azlan Shah Cup despite a history in the tournament that goes back two decades.
The competition in the Malaysian city of Ipoh is a crucial last Olympic warm-up for London qualifiers Argentina, Britain, India, South Korea and Pakistan.
Hosts Malaysia are the only team in Ipoh that is not going to the Olympics.
“Every team going to the Olympics would fancy their chances at this stage,” McLeod said.
“We go to the Olympics with the mindset to perform in every match... We have a good set of players, and I am really glad about their performance here in Ipoh,” he added.
“At present we have a nice combination of experienced players mixed with talented youth.”
Since their golden campaign in Montreal, the New Zealand side, ranked seventh in the world, have played in the shadow of their neighbours Australia, who are number one.
The Aussies, last year’s champions in Ipoh, did not make the trip this year.
But New Zealand have looked impressive in booking a spot in Sunday’s final, posting four wins so far against one loss.
They beat India 5-1, Argentina 5-2, Asian champions Pakistan 3-1, and Malaysia 4-1. Only favourites Britain interrupted the Kiwi win streak in a 2-1 contest.
New Zealand face South Korea on Saturday in each team’s final fixture. Their opponent on Sunday remains undecided, but Argentina and world number four Britain look to have the inside track.
McLeod said the Argentines have the edge. Argentina will meet Malaysia on Saturday while Britain face Pakistan. There were no matches on Friday.“Argentina has got better and better as the tournament has developed,” he said.
“Britain is always a tough opposition as we found in our pool game. If we get another opportunity to play them it would be an excellent match for our team.”