Two-time champions India start their Asian Champions Trophy title defence with a low key clash with hosts Oman at Muscat on Thursday.
Determined to redeem pride after a below-par show at the Asian Games, the Indian men’s hockey team is expected to make a solid start in the opener.
The Indian team was the favourite to win gold in Jakarta but had to settle for a bronze after a disappointing loss to Malaysia in the semifinals.
World No. 5 India goes into the tournament as the highest-ranked Asian nation and tackling Oman should not be a problem for the side at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex.
India beat Oman 7-0 when the two teams met the last time during the 2014 Asian Games 2014, and coach Harendra Singh believes that facing the hosts will be a good test for his team ahead of other crucial round-robin matches.
“We are very excited to start our campaign against the hosts Oman, who will be playing in front of their home crowd.
The opening match will be a good test for us ahead of some crucial pool matches against the likes of Malaysia, Pakistan, Japan and South Korea,” Harendra said.
“It is important for us to the start the competition by doing the basics right and producing our best performance in order to build momentum for the upcoming fixtures.”
India go into the tournament as the defending champions, having won the 2016 edition by defeating Pakistan 3-2 in the final in Kuantan, Malaysia.
But Harendra believes his team needs to keep the errors to the minimum if it has to lift the trophy again.
“We have to make sure that we have improved from the mistakes we committed at the Asian Games, and this tournament gives us the perfect opportunity to regain confidence ahead of the World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
Our immediate aim is to qualify for the semi-finals of the competition and the team will work hard to achieve that.”
After playing Oman in the first match, India will face arch-rivals Pakistan on October 20, Japan on October 21, Malaysia on October 23 and South Korea on October 24.
The last edition of the tournament saw India remain undefeated as they defeated Japan 10-2, drew 1-1 with South Korea, beat Pakistan 3-2, China 9-0 and Malaysia 2-1 in the pool stages.
In the semi-finals, India had beaten South Korea 5-4 in a penalty shootout.
India and Pakistan have both clinched the title twice each and will be looking to win a record third time when the tournament.
India had clinched the title in the inaugural edition in 2011 as well as in 2016, whereas Pakistan won the 2012 and 2013 editions.