New Delhi: Ace midfielder Manpreet Singh asserted that the Indian men's hockey team is capable of beating any top side in the world and promised to deliver at least a medal, if not gold, at the coming Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Gold Coast, Australia.
The 25-year-old Manpreet said the CWG hockey competition is of high standard with several top teams and his side would have to play its best to win a medal. He said Indian team has improved vastly since winning a silver at the Glasgow edition.
“We cannot underestimate any team in the CWG where the competition is tough. There is Australia, Great Britain, Pakistan, South Africa and others. Last time, we lost to Australia and won a silver. This time we will do our best and hopefully will win a medal. In the last four years since Glasgow (2014 CWG), we have improved a lot. We have beaten all the top sides in the world, we can beat any team any day,” said Manpreet, refusing to talk about the colour of the medal.
Australia has won all the gold medals in men’s hockey since its introduction in the 1998 edition in Kuala Lumpur. Manpreet, who regularly captains the national team, was one of the two players rested for the March 3-10 Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in view of the April 4-15 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
“I want to play in every match and tournament, every player wants it. But finally it is the decision of the coach and he gave me rest for Sultan Azlan Shah. I am happy with that. It may turn out to be good for me,” said Manpreet.
He termed 2018 as an important year and said a good show in the CWG would boost the confidence of the team going ahead.
“This year is very important, we have CWG, Asian Games and World Cup. If we do well and win the CWG, it will be a big confidence booster going ahead in the year. There is a lot of competition within the team and I think it is good for the team,” said the Punjab player on the sidelines of a sponsorship announcement event of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for the Gold Coast CWG.
Manpreet refused to agree with the notion that the Indian team quite often concedes late goals to squander matches from position of strength.
“It is just that anything can happen on a hockey field. We are also scoring last-minute goals these days,” he said.
Defender Rupinder Pal Singh, though, said the Indian team has the best chance to win a gold this time.
“On a given day, we can beat any team, including Australia. We want to win the gold. I think we have the best chance to beat Australia and win the gold this time,” he said.
“We are playing attacking hockey now, it has become one of our strengths. We are also working on defensive aspects, things like man-to-man marking. We were giving away easy chances in the inner circle and we are trying to improve on those aspects. We were not mentally strong when I started playing, but over the years we have become stronger,” said the defender from Punjab.
He said Sardar Singh’s return in the team and as captain in Azlan Shah Cup in March will motivate the side.
“As senior players, it’s our responsibility to encourage the youngsters. So, Sardar’s presence will help the team which has a lot of inexperienced young players. He is a great player and it will help the side to go for the title at Azlan Shah Cup. We are still in the process of selecting the best 18 (for CWG), so a lot of players are being given chances and there is a rotation policy which ensures that more players get a chance.”
Women’s team captain Rani Rampal said her side has been focussing on fitness and penalty corner conversion ahead of the CWG.
“The Korean tour (March 3-12) is very important exposure for the preparation of the CWG. If we do well there, it will give us a lot of confidence in the CWG. We are focussing on fitness and penalty-corner conversion. We are in good form, we have prepared very well and there is a lot of talent in the team,” she said.
Asked about the IOA’s move to replace saree by blazers in women’s ceremonial dress, the ace striker said, “Our focus is on the game and not on the opening ceremony. Whatever we wear and told by the IOA is okay for us.”