Le Touquet (France) : The Indian hockey team will play their first match after the ouster of chief coach Paul van Ass and the appointment of high performance director Roelant Oltmans in his place.
They will take on France here on Monday and Wednesday in a two match series before proceeding to Spain where they will play three matches. This is in preparation for the Hockey World League (HWL) final to be played in India in November-December. “Though we have beaten France in our previous encounters, we are not taking them lightly. They are preparing for the EuroHockey Championships, which is very important for them, and they will utilise all the opportunities,” said Oltmans.
“Indian boys are well-prepared and we have strategies to counter them,” he added. “The tour will help us to understand our strategies better and the strength of the players. I am very hopeful that we will start our campaign on a positive note.” This tour comes in after India finished a creditable fourth at the HWL Semi-Final in Belgium. India faced current World No.17 France in both the semi-final rounds of the HWL in 2012-13 and 2014-15 and defeated them in both encounters. While in 2012-13, current World No.8 India outplayed the European team 6-2, in the other match the Indians won 3-2.
France are gearing up for their EuroHockey Championships that will be held from in London August 21-29 where the world’s top teams such as Germany, the Netherlands and England will also feature. The matches will provide France ample practice before the important tourney. India will once again rely on experienced players such as drag-flicker V.R. Raghunath, defender Kothajit Singh and forward S.V. Sunil. Along with them, the trip will see the return of S.K. Uthappa, Danish Mujtaba and Mandeep Singh.
Led by Sardar Singh, the team includes young players such as Talwinder Singh and Mohd. Amir Khan who are looking forward to gaining experience in the international arena. “France is a good team and they have some good players. We can’t take them lightly and will play with our man-to-man strategy. In our last match in HWL semi-final in Belgium, they stunned us with their speed and an early goal. This time, we won’t give them room for surprise attacks and will try to keep the ball possession in our side,” Sardar said. “Some key players are back in the team which will strengthen our defence and forward line. We have some young players also. It’s very good for them as well as for us to see new passion in the team. We are expecting a good result in the first match. We will give our best during this tour.”