Determined to take it one step at a time,India coach Baljit Singh Saini said the two-time defending champions are looking to make it to the semifinals first before aiming to claim the title in the seventh junior men’s Asia Cup hockey tournament,which commences here today.
India are placed in Group B along with arch-rivals Pakistan,Sri Lanka and China. They will play their first match tomorrow against the Lankans,followed by games against Pakistan on May 6 and China on May 7.
“Our initial target is to make the semis and from there on it is a question of progressing all the way to the title,” said Baljit.
But having won the last two editions at Karachi and Chennai in 2004 and 2008,respectively,India will certainly start as favourites.
The tournament here will also serve as the qualifier for the FIH Junior Asia Cup in 2013 but India are already assured of a place by the virtue of being the hosts.
Baljit felt that the pressure has also eased out on the other teams as there are as many as four berths available.
“I have respect for all the teams playing here and therefore would not want to make predictions for the tournament. My team is raring to go and I’m confident that my players have the ability to do well in this tournament,” he said.
India had a 45-day long preparation for this tournament at two venues — Bangalore and Pune. They commenced training on March 15 with an initial squad of 48 players minus those who were in the national senior training squad.
“We were fortunate that both the seniors and juniors trained at the two venues simultaneously. This provided us with valuable sparring sessions and it worked out just fine for us,” said Baljit,who led India in the 1997 Junior World Cup at Milton Keyness.
Out of the 18 players in the junior team here,nine are also the members of the national senior training squad. They are Amit Rohidas,Pradeep Mor,Thimmanna Puliyanda Lokesh,Satbir Singh,Akashdeep Singh,Prabhdeep Singh,Gurmail Singh,Sampath Kumar Maylaram and Malak Singh and are expected to put up a good show.
India will bank heavily on Sukhmanjit,Amit and Sampath for converting the penalty corners.
“My first task is to ensure that the juniors play the same system as the senior squad as one day these players will graduate into the senior ranks,” said Baljit,who worked as an assistant to Michael Nobbs in the senior team for almost over a year and was tasked to take charge of the juniors in March.
Group A consists of Malaysia,South Korea,Japan and Iran.