Tauranga (New Zealand), Jan 16: India will aim to make a winning start in the Four Nations Invitational Hockey Tournament — the first event of 2018 — as they take on Japan at the Blake Park here on Wednesday.

With four days of training at the venue and getting used to the conditions in New Zealand, senior drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh is confident that the team is ready for the tournament in which India will play Belgium and New Zealand, apart from Japan, in two separate Five-Day Series, a Hockey India release said.

“The mood in the team is upbeat. We have clocked some good sessions on the pitch, now we are looking forward to a good start,” stated the experienced Rupinder who will be leading the team’s defence along with Birendra Lakra, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Gurinder Singh.

“This being the first tournament of the year, it is important to win some good matches to get the momentum going.” 

Against Japan, India have a good record as they had begun their successful outing in the Men’s Asia Cup last year with a 5-1 win against them.

While ensuring India remain unbeaten against Asian teams is one of their goals, Rupinder emphasised on consistent performance, especially against teams like Olympic silver medallist Belgium who they play in their second match on January 18.

“We did well against them in the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar in December 2017, but it’s important to come up with consistent performance against a team like Belgium in the lead-up to major events this year,” he said.

Rupinder said that the team is relieved after the return of seasoned goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh. The 29-year-old from Kerala was recuperating after a knee injury in April 2017.

“We must ensure our defence is accurate and it’s good to have Sreejesh back in the team. His experience is critical against higher-ranked teams,” added Rupinder.

He further stated that matches in New Zealand will help him improve his personal game going into an all-important year.

“Personally, I am looking to build on my performance both in defence and drag-flick from the previous event in Bhubaneswar. That was my first tournament after the injury break and matches here against teams like Belgium and New Zealand will help me assess where I need to improve further ahead of major tournaments,” Rupinder said.

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