MALAYSIA will open their campaign against Pakistan in the 18th Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh today,and there is a high possibility that it will be a winning start.
Pakistan will field a number of youngsters in the Azlan Shah Cup, while four stalwarts will only make their appearance in the Asia Cup in Kuantan on May 8-15.
"If you weigh he Azlan Shah Cup and the Asia Cup, the weight is definately on the Asia Cup as it offers a ticket to the (2010) World Cup.
"That is why we have exempted some players while we will try out some in the Azlan Shah Cup," said Pakistan coach Shahid Ali Khan.
Drag flick ace Sohail Abbas, striker Rehan Butt, midfielder Waseem Ahmed and goal-keeper Salman Akber are among those who have been exempted.
And Sohail, playing in Europe, holds the world record of scoring 267 internationaL goals before calling it a day to parade his skills in Europe leagues.
"It is confirmed that Sohail will come out of retirement to help Pakistan qualify for the world up, because if we miss this chance in Kuantan, then it will be very difficul to go through the qualifier," said Shahid.
Malaysia are also n the mood to prepare for the Asia Cup: "Of course the Asia Cup is more important, but we will also be playing for a podium finish in the Azlan Shah Cup," said Malaysian coach Tai Beng Hai.
The Azlan Shah Cup was incepted in 1983 with Australia lifting the first title, while Argentina were the 2008 titalists.
India has tasted success in 1985, 191 and 1995, while Pakistan won it in 1999, 2000 and 2003.
New Zealand and Malaysia have yet to see the glitter of gold, while Egypt will be making their debut.
And the absence of regulars Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and South Korea has diluted the tournament to a xcertain degree, but it also gives a glimmer of hope for the home fans.
"Even without the top teams in the world, it will be a difficult tournament, but not an impossible one to win," said Tai Beng Hai.
As for New Zealand, ranked seventh and the highest here, they have also left out many regulars Ryan Archibald, Hayden Shaw, Phil Burrows, Simon Child, Brad Shaw and Shea McAleese.
All pointers indicate that this will be the bet chance for Malaysia to win at their own back-yard. Its now or never.