India eye podium finish in the upcoming FIH Hockey World Cup
India hockey captain Manpreet Singh tells mid-day that his fit, young side are good enough to finish with a World Cup medal in Bhubaneswar
A few days after India finished medal-less at the Commonwealth Games in Australia this April, the captain's armband was taken away from Manpreet Singh and handed over to goalkeeper PR Sreejesh.
It was then said that Sreejesh would lead the team till the end of the year. However, following India's unimpressive bronze-medal finish at the Asian Games in Indonesia (August 18 to Sep 2), and a few days before the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat (October 18-28), the captain's armband was handed back to Manpreet. On Thursday, Manpreet was named skipper for the upcoming FIH World Cup (November 28 to December 16) in Bhubaneswar.
Thankfully, the ambiguity in the Hockey India selection committee's decision-making process has not crept into Manpreet's mindset. The hardworking midfielder is crystal clear about the enormity of the task at hand and his role.
"We are going into this tournament with just one objective - to win every match. No draws. We will take things as they come, so there is no target as such set from the beginning. It's plain and simple - play to win," Manpreet, 25, told mid-day from Bhubaneswar yesterday where the team has been putting in the hard yards ahead of the prestigious World Cup, which India has won just once (in 1975) across 11 editions, since 1971.
The 18-member squad is rather lightweight on the experience front, with veteran midfielder Sardar Singh having quit recently and drag flicker Rupinderpal Singh not being picked. Manpreet, though, felt the balance between youth and experience is not all that skewed. "As captain, my style has always been to work in conjunction with the team and that will continue.
We have a few seniors in Sreejesh, Chinglensana Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Birender Lakra . Together we will do the bulk of the decision-making on the field. Youngsters like Nilakanta Sharma (22) and Hardik Singh (19), both midfielders, have done well in the Asian Champions Trophy, where we were unbeaten and won gold. We are a young, fit side and it's all about maintaining our fitness levels throughout the tournament," said Manpreet.
Penalty corners have been India's bane over the last few months and despite the absence of the experienced Rupinderpal, India will not be found wanting in this department, felt Manpreet.
"Harmanpreet Singh will be our main drag flicker and he is experienced enough to take up that responsibility. But we also have some good options in Varun Kumar sand Amit Rohidas. We did pretty well in penalty corners at that Asian Champions Trophy," he said.
Finally, is a World Cup medal a realistic expectation from World No. 5 India? "We are definitely eyeing a podium finish, and with the crowd behind us, anything is possible. But we cannot afford to think too far ahead. It's one match at a time, one win at a time," Manpreet signed off.
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