Kolkata: The Manpreet Singh-led Indian men’s hockey team plans to make a cautious start to their campaign in the group stage in the Tokyo Olympic Games as they take on dark horse New Zealand in their first Pool A match on Saturday.
Grouped along with the defending Olympic Champions Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Japan, world No.4 India’s task will be cut out to ensure a spot in the quarter final. Meanwhile, the Rani Rampal-led Indian women’s team open against the formidable Netherlands on Saturday.
“They are a team we need to be careful of,” said Manpreet, who was India’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony on Friday. “The team must stick to basics, ensure we execute our plans properly and not get complacent at any point in the game,” the star mdifielder and captain said.
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Manpreet’s words of caution stems from past experiences, as this team which will be led by the experienced Blair Tarrant who has 217 internationals caps. In 2018 when New Zealand toured India ahead of the FIH Men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar, India had tasted emphatic victories (4-0, 3-1, 4-2) against this team but had gone down 2-3 in the crucial semi-final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“New Zealand is a very good team and I have a lot of respect for the way they play. They are mentally very tough and they never give up. This attitude of theirs makes them a dangerous opponent,” said Chief Coach Graham Reid. “They have a very skilful forward line and honestly at the Olympics, world rankings don’t really matter. It will be important for us to start well on Saturday,” Reid said.
With the team getting good training hours at the Oi Hockey Stadium, Reid believes the team is ready for the group stage challenge. “When you get to somewhere new, I always like to make sure we do drills to familiarize and test the surface. Things like penalty corners and bounce of the turf is often very important because overheads also play such an important role in the matches these days. We went through the intricacies of the ground in the last 3-4 days in the village and training sessions.”
“Playing a friendly against Germany yesterday (Thursday) was important because we haven’t played an external team in over three months. We created enough opportunities and came back to finish well. We will be using some feedback from that game and loop in the missing aspects and be ready for a good match on Saturday. Everyone is excited and looking forward to the game,” Reid added.
(Group matches for Indian men’s team)
India vs New Zealand: Saturday, July 24, 5 pm UAE
vs Australia: Sunday, July 25, 1.30 pm UAE
vs Spain: Tuesday, July 27, 5 pm UAE
vs Argentina: Thursday, July 29, 4.30 pm UAE
vs Japan: Friday, July 30, 1.30 pm UAE
Group matches for Indian women’s team
India vs Netherlands: Saturday, July 24, 3.45 pm UAE
Vs Germany: Monday, July 26, 4.15 pm UAE
vs Great Britain: Wednesday, July 28, 5 am UAE
vs Ireland: Friday, July 30, 6.45 am UAE
vs South Africa: Saturday, July 31, 7.15 am UAE