The Hockey World League Final is finally here with the first match of the competition witnessing hosts India taking on the mighty South American team, Argentina, in Raipur on Friday. Both the teams are aware of the importance of a winning start in the competition as the group is very competitive with Germany and Netherlands being the other two teams in Group B.
India might have lost the Test series against Australia, which was the best possible warm up series ahead of the Hockey World League Final, but the home team did show plenty of signs that they are going to be a strong team in Raipur.
Even India's coach Roelant Oltmans is happy with India's showing against Australia, but they need to be even stronger in a competition like the HWL Final, which comprises top eight teams, who have qualified through various stages.
"We've shown signs of improvement during the test series against Australia last week. I am happy with the overall performance, but of course there is always room for improvement and that's what we will try to find out," Bangalore Mirror quoted Oltmans as saying.
India have been decent in the last few months as they finished third in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia and fourth in the HWL semi final in Belgium. Their biggest test will lie in Raipur, where the home fans could play an important role as the 12th man as well.
"It's always interesting to see where we are. We have indeed improved, but you never know how much unless you play the best teams in the tournament. And this is the best tournament to find out. And we want to show that we really have improved. More than others, we want to show ourselves that we are getting closer to the best teams in the world," added Oltmans.
India have always been a strong team at home and talismanic skipper Sardar Singh has tolead from the front. Other players such as VR Raghunath, Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, SV Sunil need to be on top of their game against Argentina in the HWL opener.
These players have the skill and the much needed experience to help India emerge triumphant, but the home team's main problem lies in their defence, which has a knack of giving easy balls away and thus allow the opponent to score soft goals.
These defenders need to be especially careful against the likes of Manuel Brunet and Lucas Vila, who could create problems for India. If the India defence fail to contain these stars, India might have to suffer defeat in the first game of the competition on Friday.
Argentina, who can play an entertaining brand of hockey, could use their speed to the hilt and make India pay if they fail to close down their players on time.
Where to watch live
Click here for complete Hockey World League schedule
India vs Argentina Hockey World League Final live match is scheduled for 6:30 local time (1pm GMT) start with live TV coverage in India on Star Sports 1/HD and starsports.com.
UK viewers have the luxury of watching the HWL opening match â€“ India vs Argentina -- live on BT Sports with live streaming option on Watch BT Sport.
Viewers in Argentina can watch India vs Argentina game live on Canal Siete.
Australia and the US viewers can watch the India vs Argentina live on Fox Sports and Willow Tv respectively.