Tournament favourites and three-time champions India will look to give final touches to their Asian Games preparation and address the areas of improvement in the Asian Champions Trophy men’s hockey tournament, beginning in Chennai on Thursday. World number four India are the highest ranked side in the tournament and will open their campaign against China at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium here, which will host a major event for the first time since 2007. It is also the first time India would be hosting the ACT since the tournament’s inception in 2011.
For India, the primary objective in the tournament would be to test the players and get a fair bit of idea about their Asian rivals ahead of the Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China from September 23 to October 8.
With the Asian Games providing a direct ticket to next year’s Paris Olympics, India are expected to test their resources in the ACT while also playing a balancing act to keep their players fresh and free from injuries ahead of the all-important continental showpiece.
While the scheduling of the ACT just five weeks before the Hangzhou Games has drawn some criticism from the visiting sides, India head coach Craig Fulton does not seem to be too offended by the prospect of featuring in this event.
“… It’s something that you have to do. But we need the games. So, it’s important that we play it. It’s even better that it’s in India,” Fulton told reporters on Tuesday.
“We are looking forward to the positives and negatives. But, at the same time, we get to look at a few extra players as well, which is important for us. Injury is never nice for any team or player. So, yes, I understand the clash and the timing.” India captain Harmanpreet Singh has already clarified that the team will have to be smart in this tournament and will not go all-guns-blazing as its priority is the Asian Games.
India might have gained both in terms of ranking and respect in world hockey, but the Tokyo Games bronze medallists fared poorly in the FIH World Cup co-hosted by Bhubaneswar andf Rourkela earlier this year.
The Indians finished a disappointing ninth in the World Cup. But since then, the Harmanpreet-led side has played as many as 16 games, winning nine of them, losing five, along with a couple of draws.
The Indians will come into the tournament straight from a four-nation Europe tour, with only a three-day gap between their last match in Spain and their opener against China in ACT and that too in contrasting conditions.
The one area India will be looking to address in the tournament is penalty corner conversion rate. Despite boasting of potent dragflickers in Harmanpreet, Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas and Jugraj Singh, the conversion rate has been a topic of debate lately.
But coach Fulton is not sleeping over it.
“We have a world-class penalty corner (specialists). All the players involved in it are really good. Opposition teams know we have a threat there and try to diminish it by trying to run down or not conceding as many is always something that teams are trying to do, and that’s what we try to do,” Fulton had said.
“I think we can always improve. It’s just how much detail we want to go into and how much time we put into improving it.” Going by India’s record in the ACT, the tournament has been a mixed bag for them over the years. India had won the event in its inaugural edition in 2011, 2016 and 2018 when they shared the title jointly with Pakistan after the final was washed out.
India also won a silver (2012) and a bronze (2021) in the tournament, the last one just four months after the high of an Olympic medal.
China, on the other hand, would be playing their first competitive tournament this year, having missed the World Cup.
In other matches of the opening day, defending champions South Korea will take on Japan, while Pakistan will play Malaysia.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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