Forwards need to be more clinical: Hockey captain Sardar

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Bengaluru, March 31 (IANS) India’s men’s hockey team captain Sardar Singh on Thursday said they are working on being more effective and clinical in the opponent’s circle, ahead of the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup to be held in Ipoh from April 6-16.

The preparations of the team has entered the final stretch at the training-cum-conditioning camp currently underway at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre here in Bengaluru.

The veteran midfielder said his teammates are wary of the task ahead — with the Olympics to be held in August.

“In modern hockey the result is determined by how a team plays inside the two striking circles. In our training we are working on some new strategies and tactics on how to create more opportunities inside the opponent’s striking circle by earning more short corners and not to concede any early or late goals,” said Sardar in a release.

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This year, besides India, defending champions New Zealand, 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Australia, Pakistan, Japan, Canada and hosts Malaysia will be taking part in the tournament.

Sardar also said that the team is emphasising on eliminating the age-old loophole of conceding late goals that has extracted a heavy price in close games.

“We are conscious of the weak areas. We are working to eliminate the flaws that have plagued the Indian team in the past like conceding early and late goals,” the captain said.

We felt that these two problems can be solved with better communication on the field. For better communication the boys need to spend a lot of time together off the field,” he pointed out.

“We have been focusing on this particular aspect at the camp by spending a lot of time doing things together off the field.”

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India have enjoyed considerable success in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup winning the tournament on five occasions in 1985, ’91, ’95, 2009 and 2010. In 2015, the Indian team led by Sardar finished in third place beating South Korea on penalties.

“We have a good record in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Our target is to do better than last year when we won bronze. We lost some close matches against New Zealand and Malaysia. But this year our aim is to come back with gold,” said Sardar.

After the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, the team will play in the Champions Trophy to be hosted in London from June 10-17. It will be the final competitive tournament before Rio Games.

The packed schedule for the next few months means that the players have to maintain their peak performance and fitness levels for a sustained period of time. To achieve these two objectives, the ongoing preparatory camp in Bengaluru is focusing on further strengthening the core group of players besides adding more depth to the Indian team for more options in the months to come.

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“We have a very busy schedule over the next few months. So, we need a very strong core group of players around which the team will revolve. Though, the immediate focus of our preparation is the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, but we are also looking ahead at the Champions Trophy that will be played in June,” said Sardar.

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