Valencia, Spain (27 June, 2016): India, ranked World No 7, makes a last pit stop in the Valencia Six-Nation Invitational Tournament with the return of team captain Sardar Singh on their journey to the Summer Games.
The Indians named Sardar, who was rested from the Hero Hockey Champions Trophy silver-medal winning side, to lead the team for the Spanish foray that begins on June 27-July 3. The other teams in Valencia are Germany (No 3), Great Britain (4), Argentina (6), hosts Spain (11) and Ireland (12th).
Goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh leads the backline consisting V.R. Raghunath, Kothajit Singh and drag-flick specialist Rupinder Pal Singh. Birendra Lakra, who was nursing a knee injury, is back to add strength. But the Indians will need to take a step back and ponder into their own performance in London as they now gear up for a bigger and tougher test.
Chief coach Roelant Oltmans, believes his boys will need to rise to a higher level in Valencia against a backdrop of far-more polished teams in the size and shape of Britons, Spaniards and the Green Machines Irish.
“I believe our consistency has improved considerably but we need to get better. The next few weeks will be crucial in terms of peaking at the right time. When it comes to the Olympics, the big teams like world champions Australia and Germany always raise their bar and I keep reminding this to our players,” Oltmans said.
India will begin its campaign against Germany on June 27 and play minnows Ireland the following day. At London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park two weeks back, India stood its ground against the reigning Olympic gold medallist for a 3-1 lead in the Champions Trophy until the Germans broke loose to hold on to a 3-3 draw. The Indians, however, go into the match against the Germans riding high on confidence.
The 60-year-old Dutchman added India’s performance against Argentina and Germany in the Six-Nation tournament will set the motion in setting their goals right at the Olympics. The Argentineans and Germans are drawn alongside India, Netherlands, Ireland and Canada in Group B at the Rio Olympics.
“We played back-to-back matches in London and did not allow defeats to affect our next match. We drew against Germany in the opener but defeated Great Britain in the next. Then we lost to Belgium but came back to win against Korea. We lost to Australia in the round-robin league match but drew in the final (0-0) before falling in the shoot-outs against them,” said Oltmans.
“This shows that we have matured as a team in playing as many matches this year and can handle defeats and the level of fitness the boys have shown while playing back-to-back games is a good sign for us,” he stated.
However, when it comes to playing against the Black Sticks, Argentineans and Spaniards, it would be folly for India to throw caution to the wind.
The Black Sticks defeated India 2-1 at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2016 at Ipoh, Malaysia. But prior to that the Indians had stunned the Kiwis 3-2 after going 0-2 down in the first half to reach the final of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games semis-finals.
Just as India, the other five teams are set for their final tune up ahead of the Rio Olympic Games. New Zealand has Nick Haig, Marcus Child and Richard Joyce on the tour in Spain and opens their campaign against Spain on Tuesday (28 June).
A side that is struggling to break into the top 10 in the international rankings, Spain drew 1-1 with India in their previous encounter at the 2014 World Cup. But that was two years ago as the India of today has crossed new boundaries and look favourite to get past the Spaniards.
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