Their final berth already sealed, favourites India would look to test their attacking prowess and aim for a big win when they take on lower-ranked Poland in their final league match of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh on Friday.
With three wins and a draw, India are currently leading the six-team league table with 10 points and a goal difference of eight. Just like five-time champions India, Korea too have secured their place in Saturday’s summit clash with 10 points but they have an inferior goal difference — five — than the Indians.
The last round league matches, thus, have become inconsequential for all the teams but both India and Korea would look to keep their winning momentum intact. Against Poland, ranked 21st in the world, it should be an easy match for world number 5 India.
The Indians had a pretty good outing in the tournament so far, barring one match — against Saturday summit clash opponents Korea.
India defeated Asian Games gold medallist Japan 2-0 before getting the better of hosts Malaysia 4-2 and Canada 7-3. The only blip for the Manpreet Singh-led side was the 1-1 draw against Korea.
Come Friday, the Indians would be eyeing to test their attacking combinations ahead of the big final against Korea. Mandeep Singh has been a live wire upfront, scoring a hat-trick against Canada but he needs more support from other strikers and that is precisely what the Indian think-tank would be hoping to achieve against Poland.
Besides Mandeep, Varun Kumar has been impressive with penalty corner conversions and he would like to continue in the same vein in the remainder of the matches.
“We are not going to take it lightly against Poland. We are determined to keep performing to the best of our abilities, and to win our remaining two matches based on good performances,” Mandeep said. “I feel tomorrow’s match against Poland will also give us a chance to prepare well for the final against Korea,” said the 24-year-old striker.
After a slow start, the Indians showed progress in every match of the tournament with improved structure and discipline. Poland, on the other hand, are still winless in the tournament and would at least look for a consolation point. But it would be a herculean task to achieve that against a world-class side like India.
Poland were hammered 1-5 by Malaysia, 0-4 by Canada and 0-3 by Japan. Korea is the only team which had to fight tooth and nail to get the better of Poland 3-2.
With five titles under their belt, India are the second most successful team in the Azlan Shah Cup behind Australia (10 titles).
India’s last triumph here came way back in 2010 when they shared the title with Korea after the match was abandoned due to rain. Despite coming here with a mix of senior and junior players, India would be looking to end their eight-year title jinx.
In other inconsequential matches on Friday, Korea will take on Japan while Malaysia will finish off their campaign against Canada.
We have been focussing on circle penetration and more shots at goal: Mandeep Singh
India has pumped in 14 goals in four matches in the ongoing Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and young striker Mandeep Singh Thursday said the team is focussed on frequent circle penetrations, which in turn will lead to more shots at goal.
The 24-year-old Mandeep scored a hat-trick in India’s 7-3 win over Canada in their fourth round-robin league match on Wednesday to seal the five-time winners place in the summit clash against Korea.
“We have tried to improve as a unit. Being a part of the forward-line, I feel we have focused on making more circle penetrations, getting more shots on target, and regaining possession quickly. If we can execute these things in the next two matches, I am sure we can finish with gold medal,” Mandeep said.
“We have had a good tournament so far as we have 10 points from four matches, but of course we would have liked to get all 12 points on the board,” he said ahead of India’s final league match against Poland on Friday, which has been rendered inconsequential.
India and Korea, the top two teams in the league tables with 10 points each, have qualified for Saturday’s final with a match in hand. Both India and Korea are unbeaten in the tournament so far, with three wins and a draw, and they had played out a 1-1 draw in their league match on March 24.
“We know Korea are a strong side, but we are doing everything to minimise any errors in our game. It is going to be our first final of 2019, and we are very well prepared to face them in the final,” said the player from Punjab.
“We have learned a lot about them (Korea) from the 1-1 draw in pool stages, and I feel tomorrow’s match against Poland will also give us a chance to prepare well for the final.”
The young striker has scored five goals in four matches, including the hat-trick against Canada on Wednesday. However, Mandeep believes that the credit goes to his team-mates for creating opportunities for him.
“I think the job of a striker is the easiest when you are in good form, and right now I feel like I am playing well. Credit for my goals obviously goes to my team-mates who created the opportunities and space for me to do my bit,” he said.
“My focus during the matches is always on positioning myself correctly so that whenever there is a chance, I can make the most of it by converting it into a goal for my team,” said Mandeep.