Eyes firmly set on a much-improved performance in Olympics, an experimental Indian men’s hockey team will kick start its preparation for the quadrennial event with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, where it will meet Japan in its opening match. Eight-time Olympic gold medallist, India’s tune-up for the Rio Games will get underway tomorrow at this quaint capital of Malaysia’s Perak state as the opening fixture against Japan allows the team an opportunity to find its feet before running into stronger oppositions that include reigning world champions Australia.
With the Olympic Games just four months away, India want to make the most of their appearance in the 25th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, while promising to improve upon their bronze medal effort of last year.
Boosted by their bronze medal win in the Hockey World League Finals at Raipur in last December, India will test the ability of several youngsters in reproducing their strategic training in match situations in the Azlan Shah Cup.
India have picked a squad with many young players from the core group as coach Roelant Oltmans is eager to test their ability and match temperament before he decides on the team for the Olympic Games in August.
Oltmans makes no bones about the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup being a test for the youngsters, inducted into the Indian squad in place of several seasoned players, who have been provided much-needed rest.
“International sport is all about showcasing your skills on the big stage. The young players will be under scrutiny,” said Oltmans, a former Dutch national coach who has now spent considerable time in different roles with the Indian squad.
“The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is a chance for the young Indian players to prove that they are ready for major competitions, but they should not be put under too much pressure,” said the Dutch hockey legend, who is also aware of the expectations from Indian hockey fans.
Aiming to Focus on one game at a time, Oltmans is aware that they can’t afford to take any team lightly.
But India’s major challenge is expected from a strong Australian outfit, which is keen to reclaim the title from Oceania rivals New Zealand.