The Indian men's hockey team face arch-rivals Pakistan in their first Pool B match on Saturday as they look to begin their quest on a promising note at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
It is an important year for this Manpreet Singh-led Indian team, who are vying to climb the success ladder and stamp their authority in World Hockey. But achieving the year's first target at the Gold Coast quadrennial event will be the only thing on their minds for now.
"Currently, we are not thinking about how important this year is especially with the Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 being held in front of home crowd. The only thing we have on our minds right now is our first match against Pakistan on Saturday," asserted 25-year-old skipper Manpreet Singh.
Over the past two years, the tie between India and Pakistan has lost steam from being a blockbuster encounter that it once was with India dominating in all the six encounters winning by convincing margins.
The opener on Saturday should be no different for India going by the team's confidence backed with desirable results in their previous outings in major tournaments such as the Asia Cup 2017 and the Odisha Men's Hockey World League Final Bhubaneswar 2017 where the team won Gold and Bronze respectively.
Pakistan, on the other hand, began their campaign at the CWG with a 1-1 draw against Wales on April 5.
"To begin the tournament with a win is always crucial because it sets the right momentum going forward. We have had ideal practice sessions since our arrival in Gold Coast and are ready for a good match against Pakistan," added Manpreet, who will play a key role in plugging India's midfield with the forward-line. Apart from Pakistan, India have Wales, Malaysia and England in their group in Pool B.
India's second match is against Wales on April 8, a contest India would look to succeed without breaking a sweat.
But for Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne, correcting the 'little things' that concern the team's performance is of priority regardless of the opponents they are playing.
"For me, it is about focusing match-by-match, which means we build our rhythm and performance improving upon the little things or areas that has concerned us. We played practice matches against South Africa and Canada and every match we were better and played with good structure. It was important that we manage the intensity and mind set during these matches, so we are hungry for the ball in our first match against Pakistan," stated the 43-year-old Marijne.
After clash against Pakistan, India will lock horns with Malaysia on April 10. The Stephen van Huizen-coached Asian-side have been a threat for India in recent times.
Though India, under Marijne, have beaten Malaysia in their most recent outings at 2018 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the Asia Cup in 2017, Malaysia had upset India earlier at the Hockey World League Semi Final in London last year.
"Against Malaysia, we have to get off to a good start with early goals to put pressure on them. They rely on their PC conversions and that's where we need to stop them with good defensive structure," stated Manpreet Singh.
A must-watch contest will be against England on April 11.
The English side, coached by the experienced Bobby Crutchley, got off to a rollicking start with a 7-0 win against Malaysia on Friday. They match India's pace and exhibit equally strong counter attacks.
India had lost 2-3 to England in Pool Stage at Odisha Men's Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar 2017 followed by 1-1 draw in the recently held Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh where England finished second behind Australia. Though India are ranked one above England at number sixth spot, it will be interesting to watch how they will overcome the English challenge to find a place in the final four.
"We are not thinking about past results against any team. We are focused on our own performance and would like to play with disciplined structure and ensure zero errors," signed off Manpreet, on the eve of their opening match.