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Indians firm favourites

New Delhi: India might be starting as the favourites in the Hockey World League (HWL) Round II, but national coach Michael Nobbs does not want to take anything for granted.

On the contrary, he wants to tread cautiously. In their opening match of the men’s competition, India will take on Fiji at the Dhyan Chand Stadium on Monday.

Speaking on the eve of their match, Nobbs said: “This is international hockey… Anything can happen. This is new format and we have to understand it. China and Ireland are also very strong and hard working sides,” he said.

The HWL will be held over a two-year cycle. While the first cycle will serve as the qualifiers for the World Cup, the next would become a qualifying competition for the 2016 Olympics.

Eight teams from four Round II events (to be played on single pool round-robin format) will be eligible to participate in Round III (which will have two pools of four teams each followed by the classification matches).

Apart from Delhi, Round II matches will also be played in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Saint-Germain-en-Laye (France) and Elektrostal (Russia).Realising the importance of the tournament, India captain Sardar Singh had already warned his team against complacency.

“If we give our 100 per cent and play to our potential we will win the tournament. But we cannot take any side lightly. To add to that, it is a qualifying event for the World Cup,” he said.

“China and Ireland are no pushovers. So we will have to be on our guard against these two sides,” Sardar added.

The women’s team, on the other hand, will face a tougher challenge. Led by Ritu Rani, India will have to slog it out against Japan.

Japan, who start as the favourites in the women’s competition, are ranked 9th ahead of 12th ranked India.