With Key Players Missing, Can India Retain Asian Champions Trophy?

The hockey season is coming to an end, and before the all-important World Cup in Odisha – the last tournament of the year – India will be competing in the Asian Champions Trophy, starting 18 October.

Defending champions India will be the highest-ranked team at the six-nation championship, but going by their recent results, there’s nothing to say that the Manpreet Singh-led team are assured to bring the title back home.

India’s 18-member squad will be competing against the top nations of the continent, including Asian Games gold medallists Japan, Pakistan, Malaysia and Korea. Hosts Oman will be the sixth team in the tournament that first took place in 2011.

India’s Schedule at 2018 Asian Champions Trophy

  • vs Oman – 18 October
  • vs Pakistan – 20 October
  • vs Japan – 21 October
  • vs Malaysia – 23 October
  • vs Korea – 24 October

*All matches will begin at 10:40pm IST.

Undecided Squad

With just one more tournament to go before the World Cup, India should have had their squad ready and getting game time by now. But that’s obviously not the case. Senior dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh and defender Birendra Lakra are missing from India’s squad for the Asian Champions Trophy.

Besides, India will be missing the services of the experienced Sardar Singh, who announced retirement after the Asian Games.

In another major setback for the Indian hockey team, star striker SV Sunil has been ruled out after suffering a knee injury. He will require four to five weeks to recover from the injury, which virtually shuts the door on him for the World Cup to be held in Odisha from 28 November to 16 December.

And then of course, India has changed captains for almost every major tournament this year. From Sardar leading at the Sultan Azlan, Manpreet took over for CWG while Sreejesh led India at the Asian Games. Now, Manpreet is back again, captaining India at the ACT.

Also Read: Asian Champions Trophy: Manpreet Replaces Sreejesh as Captain

Disappointing Year So Far

The Indian hockey team under Sardar Singh had finished a dismal fifth at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at the starting of this year. Manpreet Singh then took over as captain for the Commonwealth Games, where India’s campaign once again ended on a disappointing note. India lost 1-2 to England in the bronze medal playoff, and came home from the Games without a medal for the first time in 20 years.

At the Champions Trophy, PR Sreejesh-led India staged a comeback to win their second-straight silver medal. But it was in the Asian Games that India were dealt with their biggest heartbreak.

The top-ranked men’s hockey team at Jakarta, India had registered dominating wins in the group stages. They started out with massive victory margins, like a record 26-0 against Hong Kong, China, 20-0 against Sri Lanka and 17-0 against Indonesia.

But in their first knockout match of the tournament, India floundered to a heartbreaking loss against a lower-ranked Malaysia in the semi-finals. The defending champions were denied a direct entry into the 2020 Olympics, after a 6-7 loss in the penalty shootouts.

"We have had a tough few months as we could not achieve our target of winning the Gold Medal at the Asian Games, but it is time now for all of us to rejuvenate ourselves and prepare well for the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup." - Manpreet Singh, Captain, Indian Hockey Team

The Indian team later defeated Pakistan 2-1 to bag the bronze medal.

“The Asian Champions Trophy will give the team a chance to face some of the best Asian teams, who will also be involved in the World Cup later in November-December, therefore we will try to produce our best performances and aim at winning the competition," said Singh.

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