India open campaign against Bangladesh in hockey opener

Hockey-India (File) India have fielded a second string team under Mandeep Antil's captaincy | Agency

Seeking to end their gold medal drought in the last two editions, Indian men's hockey team begins its campaign in the 12th South Asian Games against minnows Bangladesh here on Sunday.

India have fielded a second string team under Mandeep Antil's captaincy as most of the senior players are featuring in the ongoing and lucrative Hockey India League but they should not face any problem in beating Bangladesh ranked 22 places below them at 29th at the FIH charts.

But the home side, ranked seventh in the world, would get a chance to see how the team, mainly made up of junior players, would perform under match situations ahead of the marquee clash against arch-rivals Pakistan on Monday.

The Indian team, which also has experienced midfielder Gurbaj Singh, named after serving a suspension period of nine months, would look to implement the plans and tactics as these of players have not played together often in a competitive match.

Talking about Sunday's match, Gurbaj said his team will not take any side lightly and will play their natural game.

"We cannot take any team lightly. In any sport an opposition is an opposition and we are concerned of how good we play irrespective of the opposition. Against Bangladesh, we can look how to implement our plans and tactics on the field. The most important thing in any match is whether we are able to implement the plans chalked out bt our coach," he said.

He said the home side would look to break Pakistan's gold-winning run in the Games but on Sunday they would just focus on Bangladesh.

"Definitely, we would want to beat Pakistan and win the gold for the country. But we cannot see ahead for the match against Pakistan. Tomorrow, our focus would be against Pakistan. After tomorrow's match, we would thinking about Pakistan," he added. Pakistan are seeking a hat-trict of titles as they had won the gold in the 2006 and 2010 editions of the Games, both times beating India in the final. India had won gold in the 1995 edition of the Games at then Madras.

Ironically, in both the 2006 and 2010 editions, India had beaten Pakistan in the group matches before losing in the summit clash. It was a 2-0 result in favour of India in the group stage in 2006 before Paksitan won the final 3-2. The same happened in 2010, when India got a 5-1 win in the group stage before losing 3-4 in the penalty shootout in the final.

The arch-rivals are also meeting for the first time in an international match after that ugly incident during the 2014 Champions Trophy semifinal match in Bhubeneswar which Pakistan won 4-3 in a thriller.

Two Pakistani players were suspended and one reprimanded for making obscene gestures after the match and Hockey India had threatened to severe all hockey ties with Pakistan unless they issued an apology.

Pakistan had named a strong 16-member team with many senior players under the captaincy of experienced defender Mohammad Irfan.

In women's hockey, favourites India take on Nepal in their first match tomorrow and a win will virtually put them in the final as there are only three teams in the competition. The other team is Sri Lanka.

Having qualified for the Olympics after a gap of 36 years, the women's team would look to put up an impressive show and bag the gold.

India have named a strong 18-member squad with many senior players in it under the captaincy of Ritu Rani.

Neil Hawgood, chief coach of the women's team, had said that the SAG was of key importance in the scheme of things as the team needs to play as many international games as possible ahead of the Olympics and to try out new players to give a wider spread of talent to choose from for the Rio Games.

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