Rio de Janeiro, Aug 4 (IANS) India’s hockey captain P.R. Sreejesh has warned his team not to take their opening match opponent Ireland lightly, as the debutant can be unpredictable and has shocked big teams recently to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

India will begin their Olympic campaign on August 6 against Ireland, labelled as the minnows in the competition.

While India are on a mission to end their 36-year-long medal drought in Rio, this will be Ireland’s first Olympic appearance since 1908 when they had earned a silver medal.

Ireland has, over the recent past, put up an inspired show beating Malaysia and Pakistan at the 2015 FIH World League Semi-Final and with Australia’s Oceania Cup win, booked their berth to Rio.

“The Irish can be unpredictable. They have been doing well in the European Championships and are sturdy and fast on the ball,” Sreejesh said on Thursday.

“It won’t be an easy game to win and we will need to go full force,” added the seasoned goalkeeper.

Going by recent record, the Indian team, ranked fifth in the FIH world rankings, go in as favourites and will be riding on the confidence drawn from their win against Ireland at the Six Nations Tournament in Valencia, Spain, in June.

However, chief coach Roelant Oltmans does not want his wards to get complacent about their opponent.

“We want to begin on a winning note and carry the momentum forward in the following group stage matches. We do not want to underestimate any team especially at an event like the Olympics where every team wants to win,” asserted the chief coach.

If history is anything to go by, India has not yet won an opening match at the Olympics since Sydney in 2000 where they had beaten Argentina 3-0.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2012 London Games, India was beaten by the Netherlands 1-3 and 2-3, respectively.

To turn the tables, Sreejesh and his team need to watch out for Ireland’s marquee player Mitch Darling, a forward who plays with Rotterdam, and their captain and goalkeeper David Harte who won the world goalkeeper of the year award for 2015.

    The IANS was founded by Indian American publisher Gopal Raju as the India Abroad News Service. It was later renamed the Indo-Asian News Service.

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