Ahead of the Indian men’s hockey team’s departure for the 28th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia, skipper Manpreet Singh and his troops expressed their eagerness to compete in the first marquee event of the year.

India begins their campaign against Japan on March 23 and will be looking to continue their winning form against the Japanese side who they last met during the Hero Asian Champions Trophy last year.

“It’s the first tournament of the season and naturally we are quite eager to make a positive start as it will give us the right momentum ahead of the FIH Men’s Series Finals in Bhubaneswar,” Manpreet said.

“We have worked really hard in the camp, often training at noon to get used to playing in the hot and humid weather conditions that we are going to experience in Ipoh.”

The team left for Malaysia from Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru on Sunday night.

“We will be playing the Asian Games Champions Japan in the opening match of the tournament and we will have to be at our best to beat them. he added.

The Indian team will play their second game against Korea on March 24, while they play their nemesis and Asian Games Silver medallist Malaysia on March 26.

“Though we are the highest ranked team in the tournament, we cannot get ahead of ourselves and have to take one match at a time rather than thinking directly about the final, as we have some tough encounters to begin with. Each step is important and the objective will be to ensure that we come out victorious in all our matches,” the skipper said.

Manpreet believes that the World Cup was a major learning step for the team and many players who have been given a chance are in a better position to handle pressure situations.

“The World Cup was a great learning for all of us. Though, we weren’t able to go beyond the quarter final, I believe the world took a note of the immense potential of a young team who played with all their heart.

“At this camp, we have looked back at our mistakes and have also tried to develop some new combinations that can help us improve our game. We are confident of our chances of winning but don’t want to get complacent,” he said.