India should not have many problems in getting off to a winning start as they are set to face the lowest ranked team, Japan, in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia, Wednesday. Though Japan are second favourites, India cannot afford to take them lightly.
India have not sent their strongest team in the competition, providing rest to some of their senior players. It is at this juncture where youngsters can impress, and put forward a case for their inclusion in the Rio Olympics squad. One player, who will want to create an impression is drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh. He has a knack for converting penalty corners, and a quality performance from the defender in Malaysia could book him a ticket to Rio.
With India set to feature in Rio Olympics with the best possible squad, coach Reolant Oltmans might see this competition as a chance for youngsters to shine, and prove their mettle. But the Dutchman does not want to put pressure on these young guns, who will have an important part to play for India in the competition.
"International sport is all about showcasing your skills on the big stage. The young players will be under scrutiny. The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is a chance for the young Indian players to prove that they are ready for major competitions, but they should not be put under too much pressure," Press Trust of India quoted Oltmans as saying.
Though the team might be missing some of their senior players, stars like Sardar Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh are going to play an important role in the competition. With their experience, India should emerge victorious, but Japan will be looking to upset one of the contenders for the title.
However, the opening fixture might be the easiest game India might come across as other teams in the competition like Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Canada and Malaysia can trouble Sardar Singh and his men.
This Sultan Azlan Shah will be India's penultimate competition before they head to Rio for the upcoming Olympics. The Champions Trophy will be India's last tournament before the Olympics.
Where to watch live
Sultan Azlan Shah Cup match between India vs Japan is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. local time (3:35 p.m IST) start. Viewers in India can watch India vs Japan live on Star Sports 1/HD and Star Sports 3/HD, with live streaming on starsports.com.