Rupinder, Akash make comebacks; Sardar retains place in Asian Games squad
New Delhi, Jul 9 (PTI) Ace dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh and striker Akashdeep Singh today returned to India's 18-member men's hockey squad for next month's Asian Games in Indonesia, where the country would be defending its gold medal.
The team for the 18th Asian Games, to be held in Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2, was announced by Hockey India today and featured just two changes from the Champions Trophy squad that won a second consecutive silver medal in Breda, Netherlands recently.
While Rupinder, who was rested from the Champions Trophy squad, returned to the side in place of Jarmanpreet Singh, Akashdeep replaced an injured Ramandeep Singh.
The rest of the squad, to be led by veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, is the same that took part in the final edition of the Champions Trophy.
Chinglensana Singh has been retained as the vice-captain and he will be joined by the experienced Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh, Simranjeet Singh and Vivek Sagar Prasad in the midfield.
India's forward-line has just one change in Akashdeep replacing Ramandeep, who suffered a right knee injury in the Champions Trophy. Besides Akashdeep, SV Sunil, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay and Dilpreet Singh are the other strikers in the Asian Games-bound squad.
The team's defence will be strengthened by the return of experienced dragflicker Rupinder alongside Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas, Surender Kumar and Birendra Lakra.
India defeated Pakistan in the final at the 2014 edition in Incheon, Korea to win the gold and will be eager to repeat the feat to book an automatic berth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
India's chief coach Harendra Singh is happy with the composition of the team.
"We have a great mix of players who have shown their abilities in recent tournaments. But it is unfortunate we will be missing Ramandeep Singh's experience as he is ruled out of the Asian Games due to a recent knee surgery," Harendra said.
"It is good to have Akashdeep Singh back in the mix. Both Rupinder and Akashdeep have remained in camp when the team was away in Breda and have had good match practice against Bangladesh over the past week and are raring to go," he added.
The players, who returned from Breda, have joined the rest of the core group at the ongoing national camp at the Sports Authority of India center in Bengaluru after a short five-day break.
The next three weeks will see them take on the Korean national team in five practice matches and New Zealand in three matches ahead of the all-important Games.
"While the practice matches against Korea will have a mix of players from the core group, the matches against New Zealand will be played by the 18 members who are selected for the Asian Games," the coach said.
"I believe this will be good for the team in their preparation for the Asian Games where we will certainly go for the gold to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics," added Harendra.
Goalkeepers: PR Sreejesh (Captain), Krishan B Pathak
Defenders: Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Birendra Lakra, Surender Kumar, Rupinder Pal Singh, Amit Rohidas
Midfielders: Manpreet Singh, Chinglensana Singh Kangujam (Vice-Captain), Simranjeet Singh, Sardar Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad
Forwards: SV Sunil, Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Dilpreet Singh