After having skipped the inaugural edition of the Pro League last year, India will take on Netherlands in the first leg of the FIH Pro League in Bhubaneswar on January 18 and 19. Mandeep Singh, the striker, believes the World No. 5 host will give the Dutch side, ranked third, a tough fight in the upcoming contests.

“We have always played close matches against the Netherlands and although we have not played them over the past year, we believe we have improved as a team with good structure and scoring capabilities,” said Mandeep, who scored maximum goals for India last year.

“Also, we are playing at home, so we would definitely not want to let our fans down. We want to make a winning start to the season,” he added.

Mandeep feels the share of his success should also go to his team-mates, without whose help it wouldn’t have been possible for him to shine on the turf. “If I am scoring goals then it is because of the assists I am getting from my team-mates. My understanding with seniors S. V. Sunil, Ramandeep [Singh] and Akashdeep [Singh] is much better as we have spent more time together. We discuss and debate a lot off the field and try analyse how we played and where we could have created gap and how we need to work inside the circle. This has really helped me a lot to improve as a striker.”

Fitness and recovery

Mandeep said with back-to-back matches against the Netherlands scheduled, the team management’s primary focus during the national coaching camp that started here on December 29 was on fitness and recovery.

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“Since we will be playing back-to-back high intensity matches in the FIH Hockey Pro league with little less than 24 hours of recovery time between matches, the training sessions are planned in such a way that we have red sessions (high-intensity training) on back-to-back days and then rest or train light the next session,” he said.

“Robin Arkel (Scientific Advisor) planned extremely tough gym sessions in the previous camp. Even though we are a fit team, the focus was to build on our strength much more. The effort has paid off because our scores in Yo-Yo test this time has been better than before. This was important as speed and fitness is going to play a major role in the next seven-eight months of intense hockey that we will play,” he added.