Ipoh (Malaysia) Mar 22 : The Indian Men's Hockey Team will take on the 18th Asian Games Gold Medallists Japan in their opening encounter here at the 28th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on Saturday.
Despite the team has been plagued by a series of injuries, 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.
"Japan, Korea and hosts Malaysia will be the teams to watch out for. They are traveling with full squads and they will pose a stiff challenge for us," India captain Manpreet Singh expressed on the eve of their opening match against Japan.
"The youngsters will need to step up their game and I believe having fresh faces can be an advantage as the possibility of them knowing much about the new comers is less. Though losing Gurjant Singh after coming here is a setback, Gursahibjit Singh who is replacing him is a talented forward and understands the requirements of senior team," added the India Skipper.
The Indian team reached Ipoh on 18 March and has been going about their routine to get used to the humid conditions. On Thursday, the team played a practice match against host Malaysia and are geared up for a good start to the tournament.
India's previous outing at Sultan Azlan Shah ended with the team finishing 5th but had seen good performances by a young unit combined with a few senior players. The team had lost narrowly (2-3) to Olympic Champions Argentina in their first match, drew with England 1-1, lost to Australia (who eventually won the title) 2-4 and beat Malaysia 5-1. Though they lost 2-3 to Ireland in the round robin stage, they beat them 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. It's important for us seniors to back all the youngsters in the team and guide them through the tournament to get the best out of them," said Manpreet.
India's most successful outings at this prestigious tournament has been in 1985, 1991, 1995, 2009 when they have won the title and in 2010, India shared the honours with South Korea. In most recent years, the Indian team settled for Silver after losing the Final in 2016 to Australia and finished third in 2017 after winning Bronze Medal match against New Zealand.UNI