Hockey World League Finals: Resurgent India to face Argentina in opener
The Sardar Singh-led side also produced a commendable display in the preparatory three-Test series against world champions Australia.
Raipur: India have improved by leaps and bounds recently but the hosts have to be on their toes when they face Argentina in the lung-opener of the Hockey World League (HWL) Finals, here tomorrow.
India are placed in a very tough Pool B alongside world number five Argentina, world no. 2 Netherlands and world no. 3 Germany.
Under High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans, who is also doubling up as the chief coach of the team, India has shown significant progress in the recent past to jump two places in the world rankings to the sixth spot.
In the run up to the tournament, the Indians toured New Zealand and defeated the Black Sticks 2-1 in Test series.
The Sardar Singh-led side also produced a commendable display in the preparatory three-Test series against world champions Australia here which they lost on deciding penalty shoot out.
But all said and done, the HWL Final will be a completely different ball game as top seven teams of the world will be in action. Besides India, Argentina, Germany and Netherlands, the tournament also features world no.1 Australia, Great Britain (4), Belgium (7) and Canada (14), who feature in Pool A.
Interestingly, all the eight participating teams have already qualified for 2016 Rio Olympics and the tournament will give each side a fair idea about where they stand with little over nine months left for the quadrennial event.
Besides the trophy and a rise in world rankings, the HWL Final offers an added incentive to the competing teams as the winner will directly qualify for the 2016 men's Champions Trophy to be held in between June 4?12 in San Miguel de Tucum?n, Argentina.
Apart from the tournament-opener between India and Argentina, the opening day will also witness the famous European rivalry between Germany and Netherlands.
Going by the world rankings, it is expected to be a close duel as India are just place one rung below Argentina (5).
India, who finished fourth at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Antwerp, would definitely be looking to impress in front of their home fans.
The Indians would be the relishing the home support, which would be in abundance and the proof that has been the sell out India-Australia Test series.
The 18-member Indian squad will be led by midfield mainstay Sardar Singh while star goalkeeper P R Sreejesh will be his deputy.
India's wall of defenders comprises Birendra Lakra, Kothajit Singh, Jasjit Singh Kular, VR Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh.
The presence of Raghunath and Rupinder make India a potent force in penalty corners as well.
Sardar, alongside Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Devinder Walmiki, Manpreet Singh, Dharamvir Singh and Danish Mujtaba would man the midfield while SV Sunil, Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Talwinder Singh and Mohammad Amir would lead India's attack.
The hosts, however, would miss the services of strikers Nikkin Thimmaiah and Lalit Upadhyay, both out of the tournament due to injuries.
Pan Am champions Argentina, however, would be a tough nut to crak for the Indians.
Since winning the bronze medals at last year's Hockey World Cup in Netherlands, the Los Leones have climbed to fifth place in the world rankings thanks to a Pan Am Cup success and a second place finish in the Hockey World League Semi-Final in their own backyard in Buenos Aires.
Lucas Vila is the creative mastermind of the Argentine team while defender and 2014 FIH Young Player of the Year Gonzalo Peillat is a prolific scorer from penalty corners.