Sardar and Co eye big win over Sri Lanka in Asiad opener

Eyes firmly set on the gold medal, which has eluded them for the past 16 years, the Indian men's hockey team would look to open its Asian Games campaign with a big win against minnows Sri Lanka in a Pool B match at the Seonhak Hockey Stadium, here on Sunday.

Sardar and Co eye big win over Sri Lanka in Asiad opener

Incheon: Eyes firmly set on the gold medal, which has eluded them for the past 16 years, the Indian men's hockey team would look to open its Asian Games campaign with a big win against minnows Sri Lanka in a Pool B match at the Seonhak Hockey Stadium, here on Sunday.

After the islanders, the Sardar Singh-led side will face Oman on September 23 before more tough encounters against arch-rival Pakistan (September 25) and China (September 27).

Two-time gold medallist India, who stood top of the podium in 1966 and 1998, would definitely be looking for thumping wins over Sri Lanka and Oman to boost their confidence before they take on the big guns.

The Asian Games will be the first major international hockey competition to feature the new format where the duration of the game has been reduced from 70 to 60 minutes. The game will also be played in four quarters of 15-minute each instead of the regular two halves of 35 minutes each. There will be a 40-second time-out when a penalty corner is awarded and after a goal is scored.

The new format was introduced by the International Hockey Federation to make the game more fast-paced and viewer friendly and the Asian Games will be a test of character of India's adaptability to changing rules.

India is the second-best among Asian teams in world rankings at no.9 behind four-time winners and tournament hosts South Korea.

But going by the amount of international exposure Terry Walsh's boys had in the last one year, which includes the World Cup and Glasgow Commonwealth Games, India are definitely touted as one of the title favourites in the 17th edition of the Asiad.

For India, the added incentive to win the gold here is a direct berth to Rio Olympics as the winners of the Asian Games will earn a direct entry into the 2016 mega-event.

Having failed to utilise the opportunity in the last edition after losing to Malaysia in the semi-finals of the 2010 Guangzhou Games, the Indians would be desperate to avoid a repeat this time around.

Unlike other participating nations, the Indians would approach the Asian Games high on confidence after having bagged the silver in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games earlier this year.

India have fielded the same bunch of players that represented the country in the Glasgow Games and the plus point for chief coach Terry Walsh is that the group looked settled.

Their would be plenty of hunger in the belly of the Indian players as the country last won gold in the Asian Games in the 1998 edition in Bangkok and Sardar and his team-mates would be eager to break the 16-year-old jinx here.

India's first two matches against minnows Sri Lanka and Oman are expected to be goal routs but the encounters will also give Walsh a fair bit of idea about how his wards have adapted and made use of the new rules.

India's chief coach Walsh has been upbeat about his ward's chances in the Asian Games but warned his wards against complacency.

"We are progressing really well. There is a considerable difference in our level of performance from pre-World Cup to post-Commonwealth Games," he said.

"We have a realistic chance (of winning the gold) but we will take one game at a time," Walsh said.
Insisting that India and Korea are the teams to beat in he Asian Games, Walsh said, "I think this group of players sincerely believe that if they play to their potential they can win the title."

Besides the players, the pressure would also be high on India's highly-paid foreign coaches -- Walsh and High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans -- as anything less than a gold might just see their ouster despite having a contract will 2016 Olympics.

All in all stakes are very high for the the eight-time Olympic champions India in the Asian Games as a gold here will not give them a direct ticket to Rio but also help in reviving the dipping profile of the game back home. 

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