Tokyo, July 23 | Ahead of the Indian men’s hockey team’s opener against New Zealand in Pool A on July 24, captain Manpreet Singh said that his boys would look to make a cautious start given that the opponents “are very good” and “I have a lot of respect for the way they play”.
Grouped along with defending Olympic champions Argentina, formidable Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Japan, world No.4 India’s task will be cut out to ensure a spot in the quarterfinals.
Playing at the same venue back in 2019 at the FIH Test event — Ready Steady Tokyo Hockey –, India had beaten New Zealand 5-0 in the final. However, in the round-robin stage, New Zealand had got the better of India with a 2-1 victory.
“They are a team we need to be careful of,” said Manpreet, who will be India’s flag bearer during the opening ceremony later on Friday.
“The team must stick to basics, ensure we execute our plans properly and not get complacent at any point in the game.”
Manpreet’s caution stems from his past experiences against New Zealand, led by Blair Tarrant, who has 217 internationals caps. In 2018, when New Zealand toured India ahead of the FIH World Cup in Bhubaneswar, India had tasted considerable victories (4-0, 3-1, 4-2) against the team but had gone down 2-3 in the crucial semifinal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“New Zealand is a very good team, and I have a lot of respect for the way they play. They are mentally very tough, and they never give up. This attitude of theirs makes them a dangerous opponent,” said India chief coach Graham Reid.
“They have a very skilful forward line and honestly at the Olympics, world rankings don’t really matter. So, it will be important for us to start well on Saturday,” Reid said.
With the team getting good training hours at the Oi Hockey Stadium, Reid believes the side is ready for the group stage challenge.
“When you get to somewhere new, I always like to make sure we do drills to familiarise and test the surface. Things like penalty corners and bounce of the turf is often very important because overheads also play such an important role in the matches these days. We went through the intricacies of the ground in the last 3-4 days in the village and training sessions.
“Playing a friendly against Germany yesterday (Thursday) was important because we haven’t played an external team in over three months. We created enough opportunities and came back to finish well. We will be using some feedback from that game and loop in the missing aspects and be ready for a good match on Saturday. Everyone is excited and looking forward to the game,” Reid added.
Pool A schedule
India vs New Zealand – July 24
India vs Australia – July 25
India vs Spain – July 27
India Vs Argentina – July 29
India vs Japan – July 30