The much-anticipated Hockey World League Final is just two days away and hockey fans around the world are waiting for the mega competition in Raipur.
India, who are the hosts of the competition, will be supported by the home crowd, but they have a huge task in their hand with top teams such as Germany and Netherlands in the same group.
India, who finished a disappointing sixth in the last edition of the HWL Final, will be keen to come up with a better performance this year. India were disappointing in the Hockey World Cup as well, where they finished in ninth place.
However, things seems to have improved of late as the Indian team put up a creditable performance in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, finishing third. There has been improvement in their style of play and they are not afraid to take the attack to the opposition.
India also put up a good showing in the HWL semi-finals in Belgium, where Sardar Singh and his men finished fourth. India need to come up with their A–class performance in Raipur as expectations are higher when the men in blue play at home where they are supported to the hilt.
Dutchman Roelant Oltmans, who took over as the India hockey coach after the controversial removal of Paul van Ass, has spent some quality time with players. Oltmans is known as a master technician and he needs to use all his skills to help India come up with a positive result in the HWL Final.
So the new coach, who knows the strengths and the weaknesses of the team well, must have made some strategies in Bengaluru during the training camp ahead of the HWL Final. India have some fine players such as VR Raghnuanth, Birendra Lakra, Rupinder Pal Singh, SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh among others, who need to get their game going in Raipur.
One has seen that India's major problem lies in their defence as they have given away soft goals, which must have been addressed by the coach during the training camp in Bengaluru. India defenders, when under pressure, give the ball away too easily and are exposed, resulting in goals conceded.
Apart from their defence, India have to find the back of the net via field goals; players like SV Sunil and Akashdeep Singh need to step up their game in front of the goal. India's major weapon in the series will be their penalty corner specialists – VR Raghuntah and Rupinder Pal Singh – who are the best drag-flickers for India.
The hosts received a major blow last week when their quality striker, Lalit Upadhayay, was ruled out after suffering a hairline fracture in Bengaluru. Mohd Amir Khan has replaced the striker. Apart from Lalit, Nikkin Thimmaiah will also be missing the HWL Final as he was injured during India's tour of New Zealand.
Indian hockey fans will be expecting a quality performance from the home team and a fine display by Sardar Singh and his men in Raipur will help them build confidence ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics as well.
India squad for HWL final
Sardar Singh (Captain), PR Sreejesh, Harjot Singh, Birendra Lakra, Kothajit SIngh, VR Raghunath, Jasjit Singh Kular, Rupinder Pal Singh, Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Devinder Walmiki, Manpreet Singh, Dharamvir Singh, Danish Mujtaba, SV Sunil, Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Mohd Amir Khan, Talwinder Singh.
India fixtures in the group stages
November 27- India vs Argentina (6:30pm IST, 1pm GMT)
November 28 - India vs Germany (6:30pm IST, 1pm GMT)
November 30 - India vs Netherlands (6:30pm IST, 1pm GMT)