The opening encounter in the men's Olympic Qualifiers between India and Singapore on Saturday is regarded as a battle between the favourites and minnows.
Given the hockey tradition in the country — India have won eight Olympic titles — the home team enjoys a huge advantage in every aspect. With the vast experience at its disposal, the Indian players wouldn't find difficult to conquer the team from the tiny Southeast Asian island state that is still in the process of expanding the game among the community.
Perhaps with an eye on the future, Singapore have drafted in eight teenagers in the 18-member squad, which has hardly any international experience. Despite being ranked lowly in the six-nation contest, Singapore have their task cut out. "It will be a good learning experience for the players," coach Solomon Yusef Casoojee said of his side that faces their biggest challenge in the tournament.
Nothing to chance
Four years ago, India had suffered a disaster when they missed the berth for the 2008 Beijing Games, being excluded from an Olympics hockey competition for the first time in 80 years. But this time, the hosts are fancied to win the tournament. Notwithstanding the relatively easy field, India's Aussie coach Michael Nobbs is leaving no stone unturned in terms of preparation.
With the competition set to kick off, the coach is satisfied with the level of fitness achieved by the players. He admitted it was not possible to push the fitness level but has strived to enhance the energy level of the players with a change in diet.
On the eve of the tournament, the Australian expert is relying on the right kind of nutrients that would boost the energy level of the players. “A good combination of protein/carbo will be the menu,” he said, adding it should help players perform at their optimum level.
If Nobbs is to be believed, bad eating habits could even make the best players lethargic on the field. “It could be detrimental for the team,” he said.Even during training, according to Nobbs, he had experimented with a change in diet, and it worked quite well. "We would follow the same pattern during the qualifier too," he told HT.
India will be determined to make a strong start but the entire nation will fret over the business end of the tournament as only the winner will make it to London.