Hockey: India face Japan in four-nations opener in New Zealand

Indian men's hockey team will look to make a winning start to the new season when they take on Japan in their opening match of the Four Nations Invitational Tournament here on Wednesday.

Hockey: India face Japan in four-nations opener in New Zealand
File photo of Indian hockey team (PTI)

Tauranga: Indian men's hockey team will look to make a winning start to the new season when they take on Japan in their opening match of the Four Nations Invitational Tournament here on Wednesday.

India will also play Belgium and New Zealand apart from Japan in two separate series.

With four days of training at the Blake Park and getting used to the conditions here, dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh expressed confidence of a good start to the new season.

"The mood in the team is upbeat. We have clocked some good sessions on the pitch, now we are looking forward to a good start," said Rupinder, who will be leading the team's defence along with Birendra Lakra, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Gurinder Singh.

"This being the first tournament of the year, it is important to win some good matches to get the momentum going," he added.

Against Japan, India has a good record as they had begun their successful outing in men's Asia Cup last year with a 5-1 win against them.

While ensuring India remain unbeaten against Asian teams is one of their goals, Rupinder emphasised on consistent performance, especially against teams like Olympic silver-medallist Belgium who they play in their second match on January 18.

"We did well against them in the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar, but it's important to come up with consistent performance against a team like Belgium in the lead up to major events this year," he said.

"We must ensure our defence is accurate and it's good to have Sreejesh back in the team. His experience is critical against higher-ranked teams."

He further said that matches in New Zealand will help him improve his personal game going into an all-important year.

"Personally for me, I am looking to build on my performance both in defence and dragflick from the previous event in Bhubaneswar," Rupinder said.

"That was my first tournament after the injury break and matches here against teams like Belgium and New Zealand will help me assess where I need to improve further ahead of major tournaments."

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