Bengaluru: Hockey skipper Manpreet Singh feels the season-opening Four Nations Invitational Tour in New Zealand will set the pace for a hectic season and give impetus to India's goal of clinching the coveted gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
The Indian Men's Hockey team left for New Zealand this morning to play two separate five-day series against Belgium, New Zealand and Japan starting on January 17 at Tauranga and Hamilton. With a young team that features four debutants, Manpreet stressed on the importance of this tournament.
"It is always good to start the season with some good matches against top teams. We have Belgium in our pool in the World Cup this year and as many matches we play against them, the better for us," he said on the eve of their departure.
"With teams like New Zealand and Japan in the fray, this tour will certainly help us in our preparations for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games," expressed the 25-year-old midfielder. Looking back at the Odisha Hockey World League Final, Manpreet said doing well against teams like Australia, Belgium and Germany has instilled a new confidence in the team.
"It was very important to do well against these tops teams in a big event. Earlier, somewhere at the back of our minds, we lacked the confidence that we can do well against higher ranked teams but now we don't doubt our abilities against top teams and play with the belief that we can win against them," he said.
"We were the youngest team in the tournament and how we played instils new confidence in the minds of the youngsters." With major events lined-up this year starting with the Commonwealth Games, Champions Trophy, Asian Games, Asian Champions Trophy and the Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup, the team will be put through testing times.
Manpreet is certain of the team's realistic goals. "After the HWL Final, we recognized some of the areas that we were lacking in. We knew we can do better in defence, man-to-man marking in the circle and we did work on that in this camp," he said.
"There is no doubt we are approaching this year with clear goals of winning in the CWG and defending our Gold Medal at the Asian Games. And it is important we convert our weaknesses into our strength before entering these major events."
The team will begin their campaign in New Zealand on January 17 against Japan at 10.15 IST.