An 18-member Indian men's hockey team which will be led by experienced midfielder Sardar Singh has left for the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2018. The team will begin their campaign on March 3 against 2016 Olympic champion Argentina.
The midfielder who makes a return to the squad, speaks about the team's preparations for the tournament and expressed confidence about their prospects in the prestigious annual event which will see World No.1 Australia, World No.2 Argentina, England, Ireland, hosts Malaysia in the fray.
"It will be a good competition and Sultan Azlan Shah Cup has for long been a tournament that sets the pace for the rest of the calendar year and doing well here will be important for us. We have had a gruelling camp in SAI, Bengaluru where the focus was on taking our attack and defensive skills to the next level," stated the 31-year-old midfielder ahead of the team's departure.
In the previous edition, India had finished third after beating New Zealand 4-0 while Great Britain won the title after beating Australia 4-3 in the final.
In the Pool Stage, though India had a mixed outing with a 2-2 draw against Great Britain in their first match, followed by a 3-0 win against New Zealand in their second match, but lost to Australia 1-3 before a narrow 4-3 win against Japan. But it was the 0-1 loss against hosts Malaysia that had dented their chance to enter the Final.
"It is extremely important to start the tournament well. A good match against Argentina will give the team the confidence for the rest of the matches to follow. Every match in the Pool Stage will be important to ensure a place in the final. We have beaten teams like Australia and England in the past and have done well against Argentina too, we just need to ensure we play in a structured manner and execute the team's plans perfectly," he said.
Since the tournament's inception in 1983, the Indian team has lifted the coveted Cup five times (1985, 1991, 1995, 2009, while they shared the trophy with South Korea in 2010).
In 2016, when Sardar last captained the Indian team, they had ended the tournament with a silver medal after losing 0-4 to Australia in the final.
"It is always a proud moment to lead the Indian team. But my role will be no different from what I have been doing in the camp where we seniors have taken the responsibility to guide the junior players in the squad. At tournament too, it will be important to help them shake off the initial nervousness and I am confident with senior players like Ramandeep Singh, SK Uthappa, Surender Kumar and Talwinder Singh and very talented junior players, we will come up with a good show," signed off the charismatic midfielder.
(With ANI Inputs)