The Indian men’s hockey coach Harendra Singh feels his defending champion side cannot afford to take things easy in next month’s Asian Games even though it is a gold medal favourite owing to its highest-ranked status in the draw.
The world no. 6 India have been placed in Pool A alongside Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong China, while Pool B comprises Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Oman, Thailand and hosts Indonesia.
India will open its title defence against minnows Hong Kong China on August 22 followed by games against Japan (August 24), Korea (August 26) and Sri Lanka (August 28).
“Though we are the defending champions, we cannot take any team lightly. I don’t call this an easy group. We must be highly cautious against each of these teams as we have not played against teams like Hong Kong China and Sri Lanka,” Harendra said after the schedule was announced on Monday.
“Japan is a rising team in Asia and are capable of surprising any team. They have done well in recent events while Korea too are a good team, play very defensive hockey.”
India defeated Pakistan in the final of the 2014 Asian Games to win the gold and with the 2020 Olympics berth at stake, Harendra and his men would be eager to book their direct ticket to Tokyo.
“I expect the team to be hungry to win the gold again and get direct qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games. I want to make it clear that there will be no room for complacency,” the chief coach asserted.
The Indian women’s team, meanwhile, has been placed in Pool B alongside title holders Korea, Thailand, Kazakhstan and Indonesia. Pool A features China, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong China and Chinese Taipei.
The Indian women’s team will open its campaign against hosts Indonesia on August 19, followed by games against Kazakhstan (August 21), Korea (August 25) and Thailand (August 27).
Like his counterpart of the men’s team, Indian women’s hockey team chief coach Sjoerd Marijne is also eying a gold in the Asian Games but feels Korea will give them a tough fight in their pursuit.
The Indian women’s team had to settle for the bronze medal in the 2014 Asian Games.
“In the Asian Games pool, Korea will be our toughest challenge and I am happy we have played quite a few matches against them this year and are aware of how they play,” Marijne said.
“The only thing I would like to say to the team is that it does not matter who we play, if we want to win, we must win against everyone whether they are ranked lower than us or higher, he added.