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Asian Games, men’s hockey: Paris the priority for Harmanpreet Singh and Co in Hangzhou


“To qualify for Paris by winning the Asian Games is our number one priority,” was how Craig Fulton put it in his first press conference in May after taking over as Indian men’s hockey team head coach. “To be Asia No 1 is definitely one of the goals that we want to achieve and be that consistently,” he added.

The Pro League matches, an invitational event in Spain, and even the Asian Champions Trophy have all been leading up to Hangzhou. Winning the Asian Games gold is a matter of pride, but qualifying for Paris 2024 is just as important.

India scored a whopping 76 goals in five group stage matches at the 2018 edition, defeating the likes of Japan and Korea. But the semifinal saw them stumble against Malaysia. The images after the defeat must be haunting many a hockey fan still, as it would be for the likes of Manpreet Singh, who was squatting on the field in disbelief. His teammates around him looked equally shell-shocked. Twice India let a lead slip, and the penalty shootout ended in heartbreak. Then coach Harendra Singh had called it ‘unpardonable’.

But things have looked up since then. Under Graham Reid for the most part, and now under Fulton, the Indian team is tactically disciplined and apart from occasional slip-ups, have improved steadilly on their fitness and game-play.

On paper, India start clear favourites just by the virtue of being Tokyo bronze medallists and world No 3. On the field, their performances at ACT should fill them with a lot of confidence. Against Asia’s elite in Chennai, they were often dominant and also came through a couple of tricky situations. None more so than recovering from a 1-3 deficit against Malaysia in the final.

It took a breathtaking second half comeback to prevail in the end, but the first half would also be a good pointer for Fulton’s men to avoid going on a slippery slope in pressure situations. There were also occasions during the tournament when the defence conceded avoidable goals, something to improve in China.

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“In ACT, we played really good hockey and given the fact that we remained unbeaten in the tournament shows that we are heading in the right direction and we want to keep that going in upcoming tournaments,” Fulton had said while announcing the squad.

Ace drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh will once again lead the side, with Hardik Singh as his deputy. In PR Sreejesh, Manpreet Singh and Mandeep Singh, India have their spine of five senior pros who have seen it all. The newer group comprising of Abhishek, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Sanjay will be keen to leave their mark.

India are placed in Pool A, alongside Pakistan, Japan, Bangladesh, Singapore, and Uzbekistan. Attention will be on the Pakistan clash while Japan will provide a good test. Reaching semifinals should, once again, be straightforward. But then it becomes a mental game and there are enough warning signs from the past that this team can learn from, to avoid a slip-up.

For the final word, we leave it to Sreejesh, from his interaction at Indian Express Idea Exchange. “If we compare ourselves to the rest of Asia, we are getting a lot of facilities, improving a lot, players are travelling abroad and getting special training. So expectations are getting higher. Talking about hockey, when you are going to the Asian Games, you are the favourite there and other teams want to hunt you. So you can’t drop your level.”

That, in essence, will be India’s biggest test.

Schedule of the Indian Men’s Hockey Team (in IST):

On 24 Sep, India vs Uzbekistan at 0845

On 26 Sep, India vs Singapore at 0630

On 28 Sep, India vs Japan at 1815

On 30 Sep, India vs Pakistan at 1815

On 2 Oct, India vs Bangladesh at 1315





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