Gold Coast: India's men's hockey team will begin its campaign at the XXI Commonwealth Games with a pulsating Pool B clash against arch-rivals Pakistan here on Saturday.
For the Manpreet Singh-led Indian team, 2018 is an important year, filled with multiple high-profile tournaments, with the CWG being the first target of the year. India had lost to Australia in the finals of the 2010 and 2014 editions of the CWG and this time, their aim is again to go the full distance.
"Currently, we are not thinking about how important this year is especially with the World Cup in Bhubaneswar being held in front of home crowd. The only thing we have on our minds right now is our first match against Pakistan on Saturday," asserted the 25-year-old Manpreet.
The Indian team is grouped in Pool B also with Malaysia, Wales and England. Chief coach Sjoerd Marijne said, "For me, it is about focusing match-by-match, which means we build our rhythm and performance improving upon the little things or areas that has concerned us. We played practice matches against South Africa and Canada and every match we were better and played with good structure.”
"It was important that we manage the intensity and mindset during these matches, so we are hungry for the ball in our first match against Pakistan," stated the 43-year-old Dutchman.
Over the past two years, an India vs Pakistan clash has lost steam from being a blockbuster encounter that it once was. India, Asia's undoubtedly best team at the moment, has dominated in all the six encounters winning by convincing margins.
"We are not thinking about past results against any team. We are focused on our own performance and would like to play with disciplined structure and ensure zero errors," said Manpreet on the eve of the opening match.
Though past results don't count, India can take confidence not only from their good recent record against Pakistan but also their desired results in major tournaments such as the Asia Cup 2017 and the Odisha Men's Hockey World League Final 2017 where the team won gold and bronze respectively.
"To begin the tournament with a win is always crucial because it sets the right momentum going forward. We have had ideal practice sessions since our arrival in Gold Coast and are ready for a good match against Pakistan," added Manpreet, who will play a key role in plugging India's midfield with the forward-line.
Pakistan, on the other hand, will look to register their first win here after playing a disappointing 1-1 draw against Wales on Thursday.
The match pits India against their former chief coach Roelant Oltmans, who is credited for lifting the standard of the side after his appointment as High-Performance Director in 2013. The Dutchman has a fair idea about the current Indian players and their qualities.
For India, drag-flick expert Rupinder Pal Singh will form a wall of defence along with Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Kothajit Singh, Gurinder Singh and Amit Rohidas. The goalpost will be guarded by experienced P.R. Sreejesh.
India's midfield will see skipper Manpreet in the lead role, ably supported by the experience of Chinglensana along with young blood in Sumit and Vivek Sagar Prasad.
The Indian attack will feature a combination of experience and youth as SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Gurjant Singh and Dilpreet Singh are all in the team.
Dilpreet Singh and Vivek -- who made their international debuts during the New Zealand tour -- have been rewarded with this opportunity for a good show where the duo scored in important games.
Indian squad: (Goalkeepers): P.R. Sreejesh, Suraj Karkera.
(Defenders): Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Kothajit Singh Kadangbam, Gurinder Singh, Amit Rohidas.
(Midfielders): Manpreet Singh (Captain), Chinglensana Singh Kangujam (VC), Sumit, Vivek Sagar Prasad.
(Forwards): Akashdeep Singh, S.V. Sunil, Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Dilpreet Singh.