Improving defence & finishing skills our focus: Manpreet
By Rohit Mundayur
New Delhi, July 20 (IANS) India hockey skipper Manpreet Singh said on Saturday that going into the Olympic qualifiers, the focus of the team has been on improving their performance at the two ends of the pitch. "All our recent training sessions have been about improving our defence and finishing," Manpreet told IANS.
"We have to make sure that whenever we enter the opponent's semi circle we have to be able to get at least a penalty corner or a good shot on target. In our camp the focus has been on that and the defensive structure of the team. We cannot give the opponent any easy chances," he said.
Former Australian defender Fergus Kavanagh was roped in to conduct a seven-day camp for Indian defenders at the Sports Authority of India centre in Bengaluru earlier in the month. "Our defenders and our goalkeepers spent a week with him. The week went very well and now we are focussing on our defensive structure," he said.
Coach Graham Reid had earlier spoken about the need to improve goalscoring after the test series against Australia that was held in in May. It was Reid's first assignment since his appointment in April 8 and India had conceded nine goals in two heavy losses against the senior team at the end of the tour.
India went into that series with hardly any matches against teams of a similar calibre under their belt since they withdrew from the Pro League and Manpreet said that this was a factor in their defeat. "It was our coach's first tour and secondly, we didn't have too much match practice whereas they were playing the Pro League. But even then I would say that the team's performance was good and we took a lot of positives from it," he said. "Whatever we learned from those matches came in handy during the Series Finals in Bhubaneshwar."
Manpreet said that he and other senior have a good relationship with Reid and that he has tried to maximise the team's strengths instead of making wholesale changes and imposing a new system. "He is very free with the players. In the training sessions he is very focussed but outside that the players enjoy being around him," he said.
India will be travelling to Tokyo to participate in the Olympic test event to be held between August 17 and August 21. They will be facing Australia again there, alongwith New Zealand, Japan and Malaysia. This will be followed by a tour of Belgium from September 23 to October before they play the final round of Olympic Qualifiers which are expected to start at the end of the month.
(Rohit Mundayur can be contacted on email@example.com)