An exuberant India, buoyant by their silver-winning performance in Champions Trophy 2016 and phenomenal rise in Hockey over the last one year will take on their final assignment before the Olympics in a 6 nation invitational challenge in Valencia, Spain. This will all but help to fine tune our plans before the showpiece event in August – Rio Olympics 2016. With 3 teams from the same group as India, it will also be an opportune moment to analyse the opponent players and team tactics and, devise counter strategies to it.
This tournament will also mark the return of talismanic defenders Rupindar Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra. For the latter, this tournament is more of a fitness test. Lara is returning after nearly 5 months after a successful knee surgery fast tracked courtesy BCCI.
Both Harmanpreet and Surender Kumar shone in the recently concluded Champions Trophy and it would be heartening to see a full strength defensive lineup. It will give ample breathing time to each defender in the form of rolling substitutions and help to try out different pairs of combination in defence. More so, with Harmanpreet – the Junior Player of the Tournament in HCT2016, India has an extra battery, if any or both of the frontline penalty corner specialists in Rupindar Pal Singh or VR Raghunath are off field.
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India had tried to groom some fresh young faces in defence and Jasjit Singh Kular was good with his drag flicks but still not reliable and with Harmanpreet, India has hit the jackpot!
The midfield is bolstered by the return of captain and star player Sardara Singh. It would be great to see him link-up play with the frontline, putting through balls to the front three and the small triangles with fellow midfielders Manpreet Singh, Danish Mujtaba and Devender Walmiki.
SK Uthappa who switched from playing as a forward to a midfielder under head coach Roelant Oltmans revived team would also like to make his mark in a packed midfield, which talks about the quality of bench strength that Oltmans has built over the last year. Harjeet Singh is another youngster who would like to cash in this opportunity, to seal his place in the team.In the frontline, apart from regulars SV Sunil and Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh makes his return. It would be interesting to see how Talwinder Singh spearheads the attack in the absense of Mandeep Singh, who has certainly booked his ticket to Rio. Nikkin Thimmaiah would like to team up with the other forwards and perhaps feeling that this is a last chance for all the forwards, including himself to make the final cut.Also Read: Six Nations Hockey Championship 2016: India's fixtures - Preview, Timings & Streaming InformationLastly, India has the assurance of PR Sreejesh in goal and I quote him – ”I work in front of it .... I relax behind it!” However, it would be good to try out our reserve goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya. And even approach games especially, the last five minutes of the last quarter with a strategy to score goals and hence keep a last man! It would be a perfect dress rehersal for situations in which the team needs to comeback, trailing by a goal to either draw or reverse the scoreline and win instead.
Maybe the results don't matter as much as the approach towards the games in this tournament. India needs to maximise by trying to carry out different combinations in open play and free hits alike and, also try out differnt penalty corner variations. On the whole, a bit of caution is also needed as the last thing the team needs is injuries to its players. We need to keep the players fresh both physically and mentally.