The Indian men's hockey team starts the active part of its tour of Belgium with the first game against the hosts on Thursday, September 26. The Indian team is coming off a great win in the Olympic test event in Tokyo where they emerged as convincing winners. However, playing against the World Champions, who recently also won the European Championship, would be a big step up for the young team.
Manpreet Singh returns after being given a much-needed rest from the previous tournament to lead the side. Veteran forward SV Sunil will continue his comeback and look to get on the scoreboard after easing his way into the team in Tokyo.
The main center of attention would be the defence of the Indian team, especially their counter control. If the Belgians field their first XI, it's going to be a mountain to climb for the young Indian defence as the likes of Tom Boon and Cedric Charlier are going to test its fortitude to the fullest.
But with the club season in full swing and the main players having gone through both the FIH Pro League, where they finished runners-up, and the European Championship, there is a possibility of many key players being rested. However, with the bench strength of the Red Lions also proving to be strong, India won't have it easy.
The absence of Chinglensana Singh will once again be felt and the responsibility of making up for it falls on a young midfield shepherded by captain Manpreet. Considering the very aggressive style of play Belgians have, Hardik Singh, Nilkanta Sharma and Vivek Sagar Prasad will have their task cut out.
What would be most interesting to see is whether the Indian team changes its style of play to a more conservative one. Against the weaker teams that they faced in the FIH Series Finals earlier this year and the event in Tokyo, the side decided to launch into a full-scale attack with a continuous high-press.
Coach Graham Reid has also talked about the need to constantly put the other team under pressure. However, at times, this style left the team looking a bit vulnerable against counter-attacks. Still, against lesser sides who are without much attacking potential, it was a strategy that worked beautifully.
But, when dealing with a star-studded team like Belgium, even a depleted one, the Indians will have to strike a balance between keeping the high-press, as the coach wants, while at the same time being alert against turnovers and quick counter-attacks.
With eight defenders in the 20-man squad, there may be many substitutions in the back line to keep the legs fresh. It will also be seen whether the special camp to improve the defensive structure of the team is starting to bear fruits.
As the Olympics get near, such a series against the World Champions is a golden opportunity for the team to hone their skills. A strong performance in Belgium would suggest the preparations are on course for Tokyo.