Glasgow: Hoping to salvage some pride after a disappointing World Cup outing and also end its title drought in the process, a talented but unpredictable Indian men`s hockey team will open its Commonwealth Games campaign against a lowly Wales, here on Friday.
Clubbed in Pool A along side Wales, Scotland, South Africa besides world champions and reigning gold medallist Australia, the Sardar Singh-led India were handed relatively easy opening two matches before taking on the heavyweights of the game.
In Pool B, England, New Zealand, Malaysia, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago will fight it out for two places in the knockout phase.
After playing Wales, India take on hosts Scotland on July 26 before taking on mighty Australia on July 29, followed by last pool encounter against South Africa slated for July 31.
And undoubtedly, the Indians will be determined to register big wins against Wales and Scotland to boost their confidence ahead of the encounter against the Aussies.
India come into the Glasgow Games as reigning silver medallists, having been humiliated 0-8 by Australia in the final of the 2010 edition of the quadrennial event in New Delhi.
After Australia, the ninth-ranked Indians are the favourites to progress to the semifinals from Pool A with South Africa (13th ranked) posing an outside challenge.
The Games will also provide India a chance to make a point before their detractors, especially after their ninth-place finish at this year`s World Cup at The Hague, Netherlands.
India`s chief coach Terry Walsh has set `improvement` as the main objective in the quadrennial event and said his first target is to ensure a last-four berth for the erstwhile giants of the game.
The Glasgow Games also holds great significance for India ahead of this year`s all-important Asian Games, where a gold will secure India`s ticket to 2016 Rio Olympics.
"Our big objective (in CWG) is to improve our game and finish in the top two in our pool and then move into the crossover situations. It`s an important tournament leading to the Asian Games. So we are looking for improvement during the tournament. Our objective is to grow during the tournament," Walsh had said.
India were also bolstered by the return of experienced Danish Mujtaba and Gurvinder Singh Chandi besides young strikers Ramandeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah, all of them missing the World Cup due to injuries.
In the World Cup, the Indians were guilty of conceding late goals which hampered their chances, but the fragile backline would be desperate to turn things around in Glasgow.
Vice-captain P R Sreejesh was in stellar form in the World Cup in front of the Indian goal and the lanky custodian would be hoping to continue the good work.
Sardar too has high expectations from his side in the Games. He is eyeing an encore of 2010 Delhi CWG final against Australia.
But compared to 2010, India are much-improved side now, which was evident in their 0-4 loss to Australia in the World Cup earlier this year.
"We have worked on the mistakes which we committed in the World Cup, like conceding late goals and penalty corner conversions. The target of all players is to win a gold because we have improved a lot since the World Cup," Sardar had said.