India will continue to reassert its giant status as the competition for regional supremacy gets underway here with the opening ceremony of the 12th South Asian Games on Friday.

Hosting it for the third time, after Kolkata (1987) and Chennai (1995), India has posted the largest contingent of 704, which includes 521 athletes. With the Games happening a few months ahead of the Olympics, which is starting in August in Rio de Janeiro, many of the top athletes of the country will be giving this event a skip. But despite the absentees there will be a few names like shooter Gagan Narang, boxers M. C. Mary Kom, Shiva Thapa, shot-putters Inderjeet Singh and Omprakash Karhana, quarter-miler M. R. Poovamma, who will be drawing the crowds here.

Saina Nehwal, the biggest badminton star of the country, has opted out in the last moment though her name was making rounds as one of the main attractions of the Games. P. Kashyap also withdrew owing to injury.

India is expected to dominate in most of the disciplines and is looking to extend its authority in the others where it has been dislodged from the top. Men’s hockey is one area where the national team is egging to usurp the gold from its traditional rival Pakistan. While most of the regulars are busy with the on-going Hockey India League, Indian men’s team coach B. J. Kariappa insisted the current team under the captaincy of Mandeep Antil has the right balance to take up any challenge.

India is placed in the same pool as Pakistan, which has won the gold in the previous two editions, and will have to top the league stage by beating the defending champion to have a chance to play in the gold medal match. The two opponents are meeting for the first time after the Champions Trophy match in Bhubaneswar.

Women’s hockey team expected to win gold

Indian women’s team, which has qualified to the Olympics after 36 years, will look for glory under the captaincy of Ritu Rani. It is expected to win the gold in the three-team contest, where the other two teams are Sri Lanka and Nepal.

India which won 90 golds in the last edition in Dhaka in 2010, will have a lot of new names looking for glory in the disciplines like athletics, archery, badminton, boxing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, wrestling, weightlifting and cycling, where it has been dominating for a long time.

India will look to regain gold in squash and football where it had lost the top position to Pakistan and Bangladesh in the last edition. India is fielding a strong squad with top notch professionals like Saurav Ghosal, Harinderpal Singh Sandhu, and Joshna Chinappa in the men’s and women’s squash teams.

In football, the country will be looking to regain on the ascendance in form triggered by the arrival of Indian Super League. India announced its 28 probables of the men’s team barely four days ahead of the tournament and is yet to announce the final 20 with only two days to go for the start of the competition. The women’s team will start its campaign in Shillong and is expected to dominate in a field of five teams – the others being Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Sharath Kamal, Soumyajit Ghosh pull out

Another major blow to the Indian team came in from its table tennis squad as top paddlers Sharath Kamal and Soumyajit Ghosh, both have cried off from the event.