India start their quest for gold

Indian men's hockey team will be eyeing a winning start against Indonesia. DH PHOTO FILE PHOTO

The hockey World Cup might be in the vicinity but India have a more important job on hand to finish before they head for the year-end bash at home.

The men’s hockey competition of the 18th Asian Games that kicks off on Monday comes with an additional incentive of an Olympic berth for the champion side. It will be vital for India to grab this chance, so that they can avoid the qualifying rigmarole later on.

Coach Harendra Singh, perhaps, had this fact in mind when he said India would settle for nothing less than gold here. Under Harendra, the team has regrouped well after a lacklustre campaign at the Commonwealth Games had pegged them back.

“The Champions Trophy and the series against New Zealand have helped us to put behind the Commonwealth woes. So we will be looking to take it forward here,” the coach had said, playing down the tag of defending champions. 

India were runners-up for the second straight time at the Champions Trophy, after rattling Australia in the final. Their world ranking improved by a notch after the tournament, and at No 5, they are the highest ranked team — in fact the only team in top-10 — in the competition. 

But games on the field do not always play out as per rankings and India could be challenged by Malaysia, South Korea and Pakistan, with all of them eager to grab that Olympic spot.

India open against minnows Indonesia in a Pool A match on Monday. The other teams in the pool include South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong China. Indians have been working on their chinks since the Champions Trophy, where penalty corners remained an area of concern, and should be primed to give off their best here. 

India do not have a great record in Asian Games hockey, having won the gold medal only three times. But with their fortunes on the upswing and with the rivals not in the pink of health, Harendra’s men should be hopeful of adding to triumphs in 1966, 1998 and 2014.

In Pool B, Pakistan and Malaysia will be expected to come through against Bangladesh, Oman, Thailand and Kazakhstan. Malaysia will be looking for a big breakthrough while Pakistan have been working hard under former Indian coach Roelant Oltmans to reclaim their prime position. 

Champions eight times, Pakistan have a proud record in this competition and they can emerge as worthy rivals for India as they eye that cherished piece of gold.

Groupings: Pool A: India, South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong China, Indonesia.

Pool B: Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Oman, Thailand, Kazakhstan.

Match time: India vs Indonesia: 6.30 pm IST.

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India start their quest for gold

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