Under-pressure India leave for Asia Cup hockey tourney
New Delhi: Well aware that it is their last chance to qualify for next year`s World Cup, the Indian men`s hockey team today left for Ipoh, Malaysia to participate in the eight-nation Asia Cup to be held from August 24 to September 1.
Plagued by injuries, India were forced to field a young but depleted 18-member squad under inspirational Sardar Singh for the Asia Cup.
With four key strikers -- Danish Mujtaba, S V Sunil, Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Akashdeep Singh -- ruled out of the tournament due to injuries, India`s forwardline is in shambles.
In Ramandeep Singh and Nikin Thimmaiah, the Indian forwardline has two debutants. Other strikers - Nithin Thimmaiah, Mandeep Singh and Malak Singh too do not have much experience under their belt.
Defender Amit Rohidas is the other new entrant in the Asia Cup-bound team. Goalkeeper P R Sreejesh has been named as Sardar`s deputy in place of dragflicker V R Raghunath.
The list of injuries has made India`s road much tougher in the Asia Cup, a tournament which they need to win to qualify for 2014 World Cup at The Hague, Netherlands.
And with not a single Asian country managing to secure a World Cup ticket yet, it would be a Herculean task for India to finish at the top of the podium.
For the eight-time Olympic champion India and neighbours Pakistan, the Asia Cup is a do-or-die tournament as one of them faces the prospect of missing out on a World Cup berth for the first time since the launch of the tournament in 1971.
To add to it, the failure to qualify for the World Cup will be a big embarrasment for the Indians who will be desperate to avoid the 1998 Beijing Olympics debacle.
However, the road to the semifinals should not be much of a problem for the Indians. India are placed in a relatively easy Pool B along side Korea, Bangladesh and Oman while Pakistan, Malaysia, Japan and Chinese-Taipei complete the Pool A line-up.
India will open its campaign against Oman on August 24 followed by matches against Korea (August 26) and Bangladesh (August 28).
India`s interim coach Roelant Oltmans is fully aware about the pressure, but the Dutchaman is confident about the team`s performance.
"I`ll be responsible for the team`s performance but at the same time I`m confident also," Oltmans said before departing for Ipoh.
"We have prepared ourselves in the best possible manner in the short period of time we had. We can assure all that we will give our 100 per cent every single minute and in every single game we play.
"We will deliver, there is no doubt about it. The boys are working very hard and I am confident that it is the right team to be there," he added.