• Dhaka, Oct 10 (IANS) The Indian men’s hockey team will seek a fresh start under new chief coach Sjoerd Marijne as it opens the Hero Asia Cup campaign against Japan at the Maulana Bhashani National Stadium here on Wednesday.

    Dutchman Marijne, who has spent around 20 days with the men’s squad, replaced sacked Roelant Oltmans last month. Marijne’s new wards enter an important cycle with major tournaments coming up in the next 15 months including the Hockey World League (HWL) Final in December, Commonwealth Games in April followed by the Asian Games and the 2018 World Cup.

    This cycle begins with the Asia Cup, in which the Indians are favourites. India are the top-ranked side in Asia and over the past few years, they are the only Asian team to have claimed medals at global tournaments.

    However, they need to bring their top game to every match to ensure they top Pool A which will also see Bangladesh and Pakistan in the fray.

    They will also have to bring some technical and tactical adjustments to their game according to the ideas of Marijne.

    We have had two good practice sessions on the main pitch and even played a practice match against Oman. The team is upbeat and ready for the first challenge,’ captain Manpreet Singh said.

    “The opening match of the tournament is always challenging because we need to get over the early nervousness and find our rhythm.”

    India played Japan in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year where they beat them 4-3. It’s Japan’s ability to play fast-paced hockey with good attack that makes it an unpredictable team.

    At the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup they set up a shocking 3-2 win over World No.2 Australia.

    “We have seen how they play and they are definitely one of the fastest improving sides in Asia. We can never take Japan to be an easy team,” said Manpreet.

    India’s defence line-up is inexperienced with Rupinder Pal Singh and Kothajit Singh missing out due to injuries. The defence line-up has young players in Dipsan Tirkey, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and returning Amit Rohidas.

    Captain Manpreet feels that Rohidas, who is making his comeback after a couple of years, will make the most of his opportunities.

    “But we are now joined by Amit Rohidas who has just returned from a good outing at the Australian Hockey League and he did well during India’s tour of Belgium and Holland,” explained Manpreet.

    Manpreet, alongside S.K. Uthappa and Sardar Singh will be key midfielders, while S.V. Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh are the key forwards.

    India will face Bangladesh on October 13. The team will play their third and final league match against arch foes Pakistan on October 15.

    Japanese coach Siegfried Aikman minced no words when he said that every team stands a chance to make the final in this tournament. “It’s a major tournament which gives us the opportunity to play at the highest level. The World Cup qualifier makes it even more challenging for us but reality learns that we need to know our place in the ranking. 

    “We stand for a huge challenge to compete with outstanding teams in our group. However, this is sports and in sports its always possible to flip the script. So, let’s wait and see,” he stated.

    India squad:

    Goalkeepers: Akash Anil Chikte, Suraj Karkera

    Defenders: Dipsan Tirkey, Amit Rohidas, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar

    Midfielders: S.K. Uthappa, Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh (Captain), Chinglensana Singh, Sumit

    Forwards: S.V. Sunil (Vice Captain), Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Gurjant Singh, Satbir Singh.

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    The IANS was founded by Indian American publisher Gopal Raju as the India Abroad News Service. It was later renamed the Indo-Asian News Service.

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