New Delhi: Indian hockey team vice-captain P.R. Sreejesh on Tuesday said their first opponent in the forthcoming 24th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup South Korea will be a hard nut to crack even if they have had the ascendancy in recent matches against their Asian rivals.
India defeated South Korea in the semi-finals of the Asian Games. They also overcame the Koreans in the World Cup. But come Sunday, it will be another big challenge for India, Sreejesh admitted.
"We met Korea last in the semi-final of the Asian Games. While we won that match we cannot do away with the fact that they are a very competitive and strong team with a good line of attack," the 26-year-old goalkeeper said in a release.
"To counter them we will have to be strong in all aspects of the game, with clear focus on trying to cash in on the penalty corners.
"For me, I know they will try every possible way to sneak goals and I am up for the challenge. We will want to start the tournament with a win which will help boost our confidence for the next clash."
Indian team members are going through their paces at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here to prepare for the tournament. It will be the first assignment for new chief coach Paul van Ass, who takes over the reins of the eight-time Olympic champions from Australian Terry Walsh.
Apart from South Korea, India will take on Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Malaysia and Canada for the title in Ipoh.
Sreejesh also felt that Gurbaj Singh's versatility will be a big boost for them in the six-nation tournament that culminates on April 12.
"He is growing with every game. I was amazed to see him in the recent Hockey India League. The way he defended and counter attacked was amazing," Sreejesh said of Gurbaj who played for Delhi Waveriders in the last two editions of HIL.
"His speed is the key which helps him to go forward and come back to the defence line in a short span of time. His versatile ability will be a boost to both our defence as well as the strikers in the upcoming tournament."