Sardar Singh-led Indian Men’s Hockey Team to begin their campaign at the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2018 against World No.2 Argentina here on Saturday at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Vying for a good start, the Indian team put up a fight against title-contenders and World No.1 Australia in the warm-up match they played on Thursday.
Though the team lost 1-2, with Ramandeep Singh, Vice-Captain for the tournament, scoring India’s lone goal, Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne said, “We played three quarters against Australia to adjust to the humidity. We lost 1-2 but I was happy with a lot of things. For the first match together with this new combination, we put a good performance and we will use this match to prepare for the opening game against Argentina.”
India last played against Argentina in the Odisha Men’s Hockey World League Final Bhubaneswar 2017 where the hosts lost a place in the title-round after losing 0-1.
“Like I’ve said in the past, I don’t consider that result as the playing conditions were not normal. We played in incessant rain and the only thing we learned from that match against Argentina is that they were better in such conditions,” stated Marijne.
Olympic Champions Argentina, meanwhile, are in Ipoh without the services of their celebrated Coach Carlos Retegui who has resigned from the top job. It was under the tutelage of Retegui that Argentina had won their only Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2008 beating India 2-1 in the Final.
Though it will be interesting to see how this World No.2 side fairs in the absence of Retegui, the squad remains strong with Gonzalo Peillat, Lucas Rossi, Juan Manuel Vivaldi, Pedro Ibarra, Matias Paredas who are bound to test the Indian Team.
It is interesting to note that under Sardar Singh’s Captaincy, the Indian Team has never returned home from Sultan Azlan Shah without a medal.
In 2008, he captained the team to a Silver Medal, and in 2015 and 2016 he led the team to a Bronze and Silver Medal respectively. But this time, in the absence of key players Akashdeep Singh, SV Sunil, Mandeep Singh in the forward line, Manpreet Singh in the midfield, goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and India’s dragflick specialists Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh who are rested, Sardar Singh will have to ensure his younger counterparts shake off the initial nervousness and stick to a structured game chalked out by the Coach.
“While a winning start is what we look for, it’s important for the team to execute the structure we want to play in. There is no room for error when you play a team like Argentina and we cannot let their ‘Olympic Champions’ tag intimidate us. I am hopeful we will stitch together a good performance on Saturday. The practice match against Australia has given the first-timers an insight into what they can expect and I am sure they will take that confidence into the opening game as well,” stated the 31-year-old skipper.
India’s second match on March 4 will be against England, who have retained ten players from the Great Britain squad that won the title last year. But for now, Sardar Singh and his team’s focus is on Saturday’s match.
“We want to take it one-match-at-a-time and for now our focus is on doing well against Argentina,” Singh signed off.