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New hockey chief coach van Ass optimistic of strong beginning


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New Delhi, April 2: Newly appointed Indian hockey coach Paul van Ass is hopeful of a "good start" as the team leaves for the six-nation 24th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup to be held in Ipoh, Malaysia from April 5 to 12.

The tournament that will see Asian Games gold medallists India taking on Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Malaysia and Canada for the title, will be the first assignment for Dutchman van Ass, who takes over the reins of the eight-time Olympic champions from Australian Terry Walsh.

"This is my first assignment and I am expecting a very good start. The last few days I have spent understanding each player's way of playing and have tried to guide them to improve on certain aspects," van Ass, who guided the Netherlands to silver medal finishes in the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2014 World Cup, said.

The chief coach is optimistic of his wards giving tough challenges to the opponents.

"This is a very capable team and as a unit they can give a tough time to the opponents on any given day," the 54-year-old said in a release.

"The players during the Champions Trophy showcased that they are hungry to win and open to take on newer challenges."

The team will be led by centre-half Sardar Singh and supported by vice-captain and star goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh.

Skipper Sardar said the team is more confident after going through their paces at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium here under the watchful eyes of van Ass.

“The team is upbeat and confident under the new Chief Coach. In the training sessions he has taught us to keep working on our strengths," Sardar, who has more than 200 caps, said.

"He highlights our strengths and has guided us on how to work on our weaknesses. He has even given emphasis on improving oneself technically and this has helped us feel more confident," the 28-year-old said.

"We are positive to give a tough time to the opponents.”

Van Ass has recalled young strikers Mandeep Singh and Satbir Singh in the 18-member team for the Cup. The two players join Ramandeep Singh, S.V. Sunil, Akashdeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah in the attack.

Allahbadi link-man Mujtaba has made way for Manipuri Chinglensana Singh, who had an impressive outing for Dabang Mumbai in the Hockey India League (HIL) 2015.

Among the surprising omissions, defender-penalty corner specialist Gurjinder Singh and attacking midfielder Danish Mujtaba have not found van Ass' favour.

India have decided to go with two established drag-flickers Rupinder Pal Singh and V.R. Raghunath.

"By the intensity and efforts put in by these players on the field, during the preparations, gives me much confidence in this team and a hope to have a great start as one unit," van Ass said earlier.

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