India starts campaign against Japan

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The team will look to put behind its disappointments of last year

The Indian men’s hockey team, putting behind the disappointments of last year, will renew its quest for glory when it takes on Asian Games gold medallist Japan in its opening encounter of the 28th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup here on Saturday.

Despite being without a coach and a series of injuries to its players, most recent being Gurjant Singh, who returned home after fracturing his nose during a practice match, the Indian team is upbeat and confident of a show good.

Stiff challenge

“Japan, Korea and hosts Malaysia will be the teams to watch out for. They are travelling with full squads and they will pose a stiff challenge for us,” skipper Manpreet Singh said on the eve of the opening match.

“The youngsters will need to step up their game and I believe having fresh faces can be an advantage as the possibility of the opponents knowing much about the newcomers is less.”

The Indian team reached here on Monday and has been going about its routine to get used to the humid conditions. On Thursday, the team played a practice match against Malaysia.

India’s schedule
  • March 23: vs Japan, 4.05 p.m.
  • March 24: vs South Korea, 4.05 p.m.
  • March 26: vs Malaysia, 8.35 p.m.
  • March 27: vs Canada, 6.05 p.m.
  • March 29: vs South Africa, 4.05 p.m.
  • All times IST

Fifth in previous outing

India’s previous outing ended with the team finishing fifth but saw some good performances by a young unit combined with a few senior players.

The team had lost narrowly (3-2) to Olympic champion Argentina in is first match, drew with England 1-1, lost to eventual champion Australia 4-2 and beat Malaysia 5-1. Though it lost 3-2 to Ireland in the round-robin stage, it won 4-1 in the placing match.

“Youngsters have always used the platform to come up with memorable performances here and though the forwardline, barring Mandeep Singh, has about 12 caps between each other, we are hopeful they will soak up the pressure early on and deliver,” Manpreet said.

India has been crowned champion in 1985, 1991, 1995, 2009 and shared the honours with South Korea in 2010. In most recent years, the Indian team won silver in 2016 after losing to Australia and clinched the bronze in 2017.

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