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Uphill task for Indians

- Sardar Singh & Co. to meet england in tough opener

New Delhi: The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has been making conscious efforts to bring India back into the fold of elite hockey playing nations, where they once belonged.

Though have been protests, the FIH continued to award India the right to stage a series of major international tournaments, hoping to raise the fast falling standard of Indian hockey and help the parent body to rope in lucrative sponsors.

Starting with the 2010 World Cup, the Hockey World League Final (HWL), beginning Friday, is the latest tournament to be hosted in India at the Dhyan Chand Sports Complex. It’s a prestigious meet, almost like the Champions Trophy, with top seven nations, along with India, vying for the title.

Placed 10th in the rankings, India do not belong to this league but have found a spot on the strength of being the host nation. They take on England (No. 4), known for playing fast and direct hockey, on Friday.

In the 2010 Commonwealth Games, India registered a memorable win over England at the same venue but it could a different story this time around.

Last year, the home side could do little in the international circuit except finish runners-up in the Asia Cup. Moreover, the new Aussie coach, Terry Walsh, has made several changes in the squad, leaving it relatively inexperienced for a tournament of this magnitude.

While youngsters like Harjot Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah, Mandeep Singh and Affan Yousuf have been drafted in, the forwardline will have SV Sunil and Yuvraj Walmiki, who have returned from injuries.

Aiming to make an entry in the last-four, India need to make a winning start against England though skipper Sardar Singh has said it would not be an easy task. “The team is in transition but is young and talented. We need to do the basic things right. We have a good midfield and some very attacking players upfront. We need to tighten our defence,” he said.

England, on the other hand, finished fourth in the European championships. Coach Bobby Crutchley said his team was confident of doing well against India.

“This tournament is definitely a platform to prepare for the World Cup later this year. It’s a rare occasion that top eight nations get to play against each other,” he said.