Eyes firmly set on breaking their five-year-old title jinx in the Sultan of Johor Cup, India would look to begin their campaign against hosts Malaysia in a positive note in the U-21 men’s hockey tournament on Saturday. The Indians have won the age group tournament twice — 2013 and 2014 — and finished second best four times in 2012, 2015, 2018 and the last edition of the event in 2019. The tournament was not held in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Best known for producing top-level international players, the invitational tournament serves as a perfect platform for hockey playing nations to test their bench strength.
But it won’t be a cakewalk for Uttam Singh-led India as Malaysia are expected to pose a tough challenge in the opener, riding on home support.
Having said that the Indian junior side will be quite confident, especially because a number of players in the core group of the team are the same that featured in last year’s Junior World Cup, where it finished fourth.
“The Sultan of Johor Cup is a very big tournament in the calendar and we are prepared for this challenge. This tournament will give us a sense of where we start among top teams as we are preparing for the upcoming FIH Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup,” skipper Uttam said.
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After the opening game against Malaysia, India will take on South Africa on October 23, followed by games against Japan on October 25, mighty Australia on October 26 and Great Britain on October 28.
The top two teams from round robin stage will progress to the final to be played on October 29.
“We will face talented and tough opposition sides all through the tournament and expect no easy games. It will be important to execute our plans properly on the field otherwise the opposition will take advantage of the situation. We’ll take it one game at a time,” the skipper said.
Barring the 2011 and 2016 editions of the Sultan of Johor Cup, the Indian team has finished with a medal on every occasion.
Speaking on the rich history and the way forward for the young side, India coach CR Kumar said, “This is a good Indian junior men’s team and I am confident that they will not disappoint.
“The aim is always to win our games one by one and be the better team on the pitch. We have a well-balanced team with almost seven players who were part of the 2021 Junior World Cup team and some of them have also had a stint with the senior men’s team.”
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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