How the Argentina tour was a shot in the arm for Indian hockey

India won two of the practice games and won both the FIH Pro League encounters against the reigning Olympic Champions Argentina earlier this month.

Midfielder Nilakanta Sharma feels the Argentina tour was a big boost to Tokyo preparations.   -  FILE PHOTO/K. PICHUMANI

The successful tour of Argentina has given the Indian men's hockey team momentum going into the Tokyo Olympics, says attacking midfielder Nilakanta Sharma.

India won two of the practice games and won both the FIH Pro League encounters against the reigning Olympic Champions Argentina earlier this month.

"The Argentina tour was an important experience for all of us. We were yearning for proper match practice while building up towards the Olympics," Nilakanta said in a Hockey India release.

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"Our preparations for the Olympics started last year in the FIH Pro League, where we fared well against World Champions Belgium, Netherlands and Australia.

"We also had a solid tour of Europe earlier this year. That gave us the confidence that we could face the best teams and come out on top," he added.

The Indian men's team had remained unbeaten in the tour of Europe last month. Making an impressive return to international hockey, India had outclassed Germany 6-1 before playing out a 1-1 draw against them.

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In the two games against Great Britain, India were held to a 1-1 draw before they ended the tour with a 3-2 victory.

"What we saw in Argentina was a result of a lot of hard during training sessions. The more we played with each other, our game improved. "Conversations with Chief Coach Graham Reid have been open. He has been approachable from day one and has given me a very clear idea about my role in the team." Nilakanta scored India's first goal of the Argentina tour, and followed the effort with an assist in the second practice match.

"I have learned to stay calm and composed in pressure situations. I feel we combine well...captain Manpreet, Dilpreet and Hardik. We have a very good understanding about each other's game.

The 25-year-old has come a long way from being a junior world champion on home soil in 2016. That team also included current stars Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Krishan Pathak among others.

Nilakanta now dreams of adding an important medal to his trophy cabinet.

"I have been playing with these guys for such a long time. We are close friends and always try to help each other out. "We are taking small steps at the moment and not getting ahead of ourselves. Hopefully, we will carry our current form into the Olympics as well," Nilakanta said.

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