India seek return to podium in Azlan Shah hockey
Ipoh (Malaysia): Five-time champions India would seek to return to the podium after a gap of one year and boost their confidence before the Olympic Games as they begin their campaign in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament with a match against New Zealand on Wednesday.
Outright winners in 2009 and joint champions with South Korea in 2010, India finished a disappointing sixth in the seven-nation field last year but this time they would not be content with anything less than a podium finish.
India came here after securing qualification for the London Olympics, but will have to fight it out with five other teams that have booked tickets for the Olympic Games. The task, however, will not be easy as all the teams except hosts Malaysia are placed higher than India in the FIH rankings.
The tournament has assumed significance in the run-up to the Olympic Games as six of the seven teams in the fray will head for London in two months` time.
Ranked fourth in the FIH charts, Great Britain are a formidable title contender in the absence of defending champions Australia, who have decided to skip this tournament to focus on their preparations for the Olympic Games
Great Britain had their first title of this tournament 18 years ago in 1994.
Indian coach Michael Nobbs said past successes or failures in this tournament would not play on the minds of his players. He said the focus will be on providing tough match exposure to the players ahead of the Olympic campaign.
"We`ll play to win, but the focus will on the Olympics. With only 16 places in the Olympics squad, I want to give everyone a chance to secure a berth in the Olympic squad," Nobbs said ahead of India`s opening outing against New Zealand.
"Our team is shaping well and to my satisfaction. There are several things we still need to work on," he said.