Defending champions India will open its campaign in the fifth men's Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) hockey tournament against hosts Oman on October 18 in Muscat.
The Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) on Thursday announced the schedule of the tournament to be held from October 18 to 28. Besides title holders India, other participating nations in the six-team competition are Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan and hosts Oman.
The Indian team will be the highest ranked side in the tournament, and will be the favourites to retain their title.
However, World No. 6, India will face tough challenges from the likes of World No. 12 Malaysia and No. 13 Pakistan.
Each team will play a total of five round-robin matches between October 18 to 25, the conclusion of which will see four teams qualify for the semi-finals that will take place on October 27.
The remaining two teams will play each other in a qualification match for the fifth spot on the same day. The final and bronze medal matches will take place on October 28.
India will look to win its third men's Asian Champions Trophy title in its fifth attempt after having defeated Pakistan in 2011 and 2016 editions of the tournament.
After opening their campaign against the hosts, India will take on arch-rivals Pakistan on October 20 followed by game against Japan on the next day, Malaysia (on October 23) and South Korea (on October 24).
India's chief coach Harendra Singh is confident that the team can defend the crown in Oman.
"The 5th Men's Hero Asian Champions Trophy 2018 will serve as good preparation for our team to get into the rhythm before the World Cup. We will be playing round-robin matches against some good teams which will be a good test for us. I am confident that our team will retain the prestigious title in Muscat," he said.
"Defending the Asian Games title will secure our place in the Olympics. We will then have 2 years to prepare which I feel should be enough to be a serious medal prospect in Tokyo," he added.
Even though Harendra couldn't change the colour of the medal in the just-concluded Champions Trophy in Breda, Netherlands, the coach was mighty pleased with the attitude and performances of his players.
"The performance of the team has been satisfying. As a team, we have taken a few positive steps, which is important. We had our chances to close the final against Australia in the third and fourth quarters but we didn't use them and had to pay the price in the shoot-out which is anybody's game," he said.
In the Champions Trophy, Harendra fielded a balanced side, which has the experience of someone like Sardar Singh and also the youthful exuberance of players like Diplreet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad.
The coach's experiment was bang on target as India not only showcased some fine attacking hockey, but also defended stoutly in numbers to draw the attention of its opponents.
"We have improved in our defence and attack as a team which was visible in Breda. We've improved with our fast counter-attacks and circle penetrations," Harendra said.
"But we still have to work on some areas like positioning inside the circle, choice of skill inside the circle and of course penalty corner conversions."
Harendra, however, warned his players against complacency, saying they cannot afford to look back from here on.
"We will continue to play attacking hockey. That is our strength and any deviation from that will be a compromise.
"We are on the radar of every team now. We must continue the progression. We cannot sit back and relax," the coach said.
Harendra said the Indian squad for the Asian Games will be decided by Tuesday but a formal announcement may be made later.
After the ongoing short break, the players will assemble at the national camp on Sunday and the camp will continue till the departure of the team for the Asian Games.