June, 15

Eye on Asian Games, Indian men’s hockey team looks to fine-tune at Asian Champions Trophy | Hockey News

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India, the top-ranked team and three-time champions, are set to fine-tune their preparations for the Asian Games and address areas of improvement in the Asian Champions Trophy men’s hockey tournament, commencing on Thursday in Chennai.

As the highest-ranked side in the tournament, currently sitting at world number four, India will kick off their campaign against China at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium, marking the venue’s first major event since 2007.
This tournament also holds special significance as it’s the first time India is hosting the Asian Champions Trophy since its inception in 2011.

The primary objective for India in this tournament is to assess their players and gain valuable insights into their Asian rivals ahead of the Asian Games scheduled in Hangzhou, China, from September 23 to October 8. The Asian Games offer a direct qualification ticket for next year’s Paris Olympics, making it crucial for India to test their resources in the Asian Champions Trophy.
However, they must also balance this with keeping their players fresh and injury-free for the all-important continental showpiece.
While some visiting teams have expressed concerns about the scheduling of the Asian Champions Trophy just five weeks before the Hangzhou Games, India’s head coach Craig Fulton seems unfazed and ready to embrace the opportunity to participate in this event.

“… It’s something that you have to do. But we need the games. So it’s important that we play it. It’s even better that it’s in India,” Fulton told reporters on Tuesday.
“We are looking forward to the positives and negatives. But at the same time, we get to look at a few extra players as well, which is important for us. Injury is never nice for any team or player. So yes, I understand the clash and the timing.”
India’s captain, Harmanpreet Singh, has emphasized the team’s need to be strategic in the upcoming tournament, avoiding an all-out aggressive approach due to their main focus being on the Asian Games.

Despite gaining higher rankings and earning respect in world hockey after their bronze medal performance at the Tokyo Olympics, the Indian team faced disappointment in the FIH World Cup co-hosted by Bhubaneswar and Rourkela earlier this year, finishing in a disappointing joint ninth place. However, since then, under Harmanpreet’s leadership, the team has played 16 matches, securing victories in nine, enduring five losses, and settling for a couple of draws.
Preceding the tournament, the Indian team was on tour in Europe, which left them with only a three-day gap between their final match in Spain and their opening match against China in the Asian Champions Trophy. This tight schedule will expose the team to diverse playing conditions.
One area of concern for India in the tournament is their penalty corner conversion rate. Despite having skilled dragflickers in Harmanpreet, Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas and Jugraj Singh, their conversion rate has been a subject of debate recently. Addressing this issue will be a significant objective for the team in the competition.

But coach Fulton is not sleeping over it.
“We have world-class penalty corner (specialists). All the players involved in it are really good. Opposition teams know we have a threat there and try to diminish it by trying to run down or not conceding as many is always something that teams are trying to do, and that’s what we try to do,” Fulton had said.
“I think we can always improve. It’s just how much detail we want to go into and how much time we put into improving it.”
India’s history in the Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) has been a mixed one, showcasing a combination of successes and challenges over the years. They secured victory in the inaugural edition in 2011, as well as in 2016 and 2018, where they jointly shared the title with Pakistan due to the final being washed out.

(AI image)
In addition to their three victories, India also earned a silver medal in 2012 and a bronze in 2021. The latter achievement came just four months after their remarkable performance at the Olympics, where they finished on the Games podium after 41 years.
On the contrary, China’s appearance in this year’s tournament marks their first competitive event, as they missed out on the World Cup.
The opening day of the tournament will feature two other matches, with defending champions South Korea taking on Japan, and Pakistan locking horns with Malaysia.

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