India eye maiden CT trophy

The Indian hockey side would be aiming for a fresh start, putting behind the disappointment of a poor Commonwealth Games campaign, when they begins their pursuit of a maiden Champions Trophy title, taking on arch-rivals Pakistan in the opening clash, here on Saturday.

Asian champions India have never won the Champions Trophy in its last 36 editions but will be hoping to claim the feat in the tournament's last edition here.

The best India has fared in the tournament was the runners-up finish at the 2016 event in London, losing to Australia in a shoot-out.

Claiming the title would be easier said than done for the eight-time Olympic champions as they come into the tournament on the back of a disastrous campaign at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where they finished fourth.

The disappointing finish triggered a change in head coach's position with Harendra Singh taking charge from Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, who moved back to his old position as coach of the Indian women's team.

World's best six teams compete in the Champions Trophy and this year's line-up include reigning Olympic champions Argentina, world no 1 Australia, Belgium, hosts Netherlands, Pakistan besides India.

India will begin against Pakistan before taking on Argentina (on June 24), Australia (June 27), Belgium (June 28) and Netherlands (June 30).

Even though India (6th) are way ahead of Pakistan (13th) in the world rankings, there is hardly any gap between the two teams when it comes to the head-to-head contests.

India-Pakistan encounters on the hockey turf have always been full of drama and controversies with adrenaline running high on both the sides.

Going by ranking and results of late, India will start favourites.

In the recent times, India has enjoyed convincing victories over Pakistan right from the final of Asian Champions Trophy in 2016 followed by a dominant double victory in the Hockey World League Semi-Final in London 2017 and the Asia Cup in Dhaka where India lifted the title after 10 years.

But under former India coach and High Performance Manager, Roelant Oltmans, Pakistan surprised India by scoring a late equaliser to earn a draw in the Commonwealth Games this year.

"Getting off to a winning start is vital because it sets the momentum for the rest of the tournament. There will be no room for emotions when we take on Pakistan. The team will play against them like any other team where we go for three points," Harendra said on the eve of the match.

Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has got the captaincy from Manpreet Singh, while SV Sunil and Sardar Singh, who is just two games away from reaching 300 international caps, has been recalled to the side.

Pakistan will be determined to add to the titles they claimed in 1978, 1980 and 1994 -- victories that all came on home soil, in Lahore (1978 / 1994) and Karachi (1980) respectively.

Pakistan's squad selected by Oltmans is a blend of experience and youth, with captain Muhammad Rizwan Sr being one of eight players to have surpassed the 100 international appearances milestone.

In other matches of the opening day, home favourites and European champions Netherlands will play Olympic and Pan American champions Argentina, while reigning champions Australia will take on Olympic silver-medallists Belgium. 

 

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India eye maiden CT trophy

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