It wasn’t the end that the team or the fans were hoping for after their fiery start to the tournament – a 2-0 win against Spain. But, little more than a month after the World Cup, the team — coached by David John, S Kariappa and Shivendra Singh — is back here once again to take part in a mini tournament of FIH Pro League against Australia and Germany from March 10-15, with their first match against the world champion Germans on Friday.
It is their chance to pick up the pieces and begin their preparation for the Asian Games to be held later in the year which also doubles up as a qualifier for the Paris Olympics.
“Good that we are getting to play these matches against teams like Germany and Australia. Our next focus is the Asian Games. We are looking to improve as a team before that and qualify for the Paris Olympics directly,” said captain Harmanpreet Singh during a press conference here on the eve of their match against Germany.
While the team’s main focus remains on ball possession, they are also looking to make better use of the chances that come their way and reduce the number of penalty corners that they concede during the tournament.
“There will be some change in strategy but the values and principles will stay the same,” said Hardik Singh, who is making a comeback into the team after he picked up an injury midway into the World Cup. “We will look to continue playing attacking hockey and keep possession of the ball.”
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‘Players are mentally tough’
While the team is focused on improvement ahead of the Asiad, it remains to be seen how they are doing mentally after their early exit from the World Cup. If the captain is to be believed, the team has moved on since then and has their eyes only on the future.
“Players are mentally always tough, be it a loss or an injury because, like in life, a player also faces a lot of things on the field. Still, there are moments when you feel that you have failed to achieve what you should have achieved,” added Harmanpreet.
“So, the players spoke among themselves after the tournament about what they learned during the World Cup. It was the same even after we had lost the semifinals at Tokyo Olympics. Hence, keeping the past behind, the team is solely focused on the future.”
New faces in the squad
Keeping the future in mind, a number of seniors have been rested and youngsters like Vishnukant Singh, Manjeet and Pawan have been given a chance to prove their mettle.
Like the hosts, Germany have also brought in five youngsters and rested as many players from their World Cup-winning squad. Despite that, the Europeans will be the firm favourites on Friday considering the way they played during the World Cup.
But India playing in front of a packed stadium can always mount a surprise and it will be a perfect start to their new beginning.