Sultan Azlan Shah Cup: Confident India to open campaign against Japan

Despite being without the guidance of a coach and a series of injuries plaguing its players, the Indian team is upbeat and confident of a show good.

Manpreet Singh is confident that youngsters will step up and deliver the goods.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

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

Despite being without the guidance of a coach and a series of injuries plaguing 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.

“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,” skipper Manpreet Singh said on the eve of India's 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 new comers is less.”

READ: Azlan Shah Cup: Indian men’s team eyes strong start

The Indian team reached 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 host Malaysia and is geared up for a good start to the tournament.

India’s previous outing at Sultan Azlan Shah 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 (2-3) to Olympic Champions Argentina in its first match, drew with England 1-1, lost to eventual champions Australia 2-4 and beat Malaysia 5-1.

Though it lost 2-3 to Ireland in the round robin stage, India 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,” Manpreet said.

“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,” he added.

India has been crowned champions in 1985, 1991, 1995, 2009 and shared the honours with South Korea in 2010.

In most recent years, the Indian team settled for silver in 2016 after losing to Australia and bronze in 2017.