Eye on Olympics, India seek vital match practice

Five-time champions India would seek to return to the podium after a gap of one year as they begin their campaign in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament with a match against New Zealand on Thursday.

Outright winners in 2009 and joint champions with South Korea in 2010, India finished a disappointing sixth in the seven-nation field last year but this time they would not be content with anything less than a podium finish.

India came here after securing qualification for the London Olympics, but will have to fight it out with five other teams that have booked tickets for the Olympic Games.

The tournament has assumed significance in the run-up to the Olympic Games as six of the seven teams in the fray will head for London in two months' time. Ranked fourth in the FIH charts, Great Britain are a formidable title contender in the absence of defending champions Australia, who have decided to skip this tournament to focus on their preparations for the Olympic Games

India coach Michael Nobbs said past successes or failures in this tournament would not play on the minds of his players. "We'll play to win, but the focus will on the Olympics. With only 16 places in the Olympics squad, I want to give everyone a chance to secure a berth in the Olympic squad," Nobbs said ahead of India's outing against New Zealand.

"Our team is shaping well and to my satisfaction. There are several things we still need to work on. We've come here with our top players as this outing is crucial in our Olympic preparation. The Indian players can do with more match practice," Nobbs said.

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