Hangzhou Asian Games 2023: Five reasons why Indian men’s hockey team are favourites to clinch gold
The Men in Blue last won gold in 2014.
The Indian men’s hockey team will be taking centre stage on September 24 in their opening fixture at Hangzhou Asian Games 2023. Leaving the disappointments of the previous edition aside, the Men in Blue look to be in good form ahead of the current edition. However, their performance in the multi-sport events have been below satisfactory as India failed to progress to the quarterfinals of FIH World Cup and last year lost to Australia to settle for silver at the Commonwealth Games.
Since the appointment of new coach Craig Fulton, the Indian men’s hockey team have tried out various strategies and recently clinched the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai. With the Asian Games awarding a direct Paris Olympics quota to the gold medal winners, all the participating teams will be eager to clinch the quota place aside from the gold.
In this article, we discuss why the Indian men’s hockey team are the favourites to clinch the gold medal at Asian Games 2023.
Emergence of two goalkeepers
Post the 2018 Commonwealth Games, India have regularly fielded two goalkeepers namely – PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak. The duo has combined to put their best in all the matches they have taken part. The move towards two-goalkeepers strategy currently is being followed only by India in the hockey circuit and the subsequent result has given a new dimension to Indian hockey.
Sreejesh, one of the most senior members in the side, recently made his 300th international appearance and his command of the goalpost will prove to be vital during pressure situations.
Quick change in strategies
In the recently concluded Asian Champions Trophy final, India trailed eventual runners-up Malaysia by two goals (1-2) at the end of first half. Having conceded first, Malaysia were all over India and did not allow the hosts to settle down by scoring three quick goals.
India, since the appointment of Craig Fulton have heavily relied on counter-attacking, but in the second half against Malaysia in the final, India decided to press the accelerator first and attacked relentlessly.
This move took Malaysia by surprise and most of the Malaysian players failed to match the pace set by India. Also, the hosts in the first half were in a hurry to bring down the deficit which let to many tackles going Malaysia’s way. A quick change to the team’s structure also helped India get back into the game.
The tour of Spain prior to the Asian Champions Trophy saw Harmanpreet Singh score seven goals. Dilpreet Singh was the only other Indian to find the net during the friendly tour. However, all seven goals scored by Harmanpreet came through penalty corners and India’s lack of producing goalscoring opportunities seemed to be a major disadvantage for the Men in Blie.
But the scenario changed completely during the Asian Champions Trophy which saw several players adding their name to the scoring chart in each match. Unsurprisingly, skipper Harmanpreet once again led the goalscorers chart.
Forwards Manpreet Singh and Jugraj played their role to perfection alongside Karthi Selvam, who is not part of the final squad for Asian Games, in the victorious Asian Champions Trophy campaign. There needed to be options for players to score and with the captain on penalty corner duties, others stepped up by scoring field goals which is always going to be an added bonus.
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Strong midfield combo
The strong combination of former captain Manpreet Singh and current vice-captain Hardik Singh is going to be vital at the Asian Games. Manpreet Singh, 29, has been with the senior side for the past decade and has changed roles several times. Craig Fulton started his coaching tenure by placing Manpreet in defence in the FIH Pro League. The seasoned campaigner took up the role diligently and performed well.
In the next few tournaments, Manpreet Singh was brought back into midfield and once again the player did not disappoint as he cracked up the opposition with his runs in the semifinals of Asian Champions Trophy. His role alongside creative midfielder Hardik Singh will be crucial to India’s success of winning the men’s competition and securing the Olympic quota.
Mental conditioning training
Indian men’s hockey team will be heading into the tournament as the top seed and title favourites. In the past there have been talks of Indian players not handling pressure during crunch situations and to tackle this, Hockey India (HI) roped in Paddy Upton as the mental conditioning coach. The involvement of Upton has been valued highly by the players and Hardik Singh in an exclusive interview with Khel Now highlighted how after Upton’s arrival the team had gelled well and started opening up to each other.
The camaraderie in the team has grown stronger and these little things help team’s performance on the pitch.
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