Melbourne: High on confidence but ravaged by injuries, the Indian hockey team face a stiff challenge against reigning Olympic champions Germany in their third preliminary league match of the FIH Champions Trophy here Tuesday. After two consecutive wins against England and New Zealand, India are sitting pretty at the top of Pool A. But injuries to three key players will be a headache for coach Micheal Nobbs ahead of the crucial encounter against the mighty Germans.
Midfielder Manpreet Singh and striker S V Sunil are on the injury list after the game against New Zealand and the team management may want to rest them as India have already won both their earlier matches. India are the only team in the tournament to have won both their matches, leading the group with six points . All other teams in India's group have lost at least one match, with Germany and England both having three points from two outings.
India defeated England 3-1 before posting a convincing 4-2 victory over New Zealand. In Pool B, defending champions Australia and The Netherlands are tied on four points after their drawn encounter on Sunday, leaving them with a win and a draw each from their respective two matches. The new format devised by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) for the Champions Trophy since last year allows all eight teams into the knock-out querterfinals, and the significance of the group matches are only reduced to determining the last-eight lineup.
Manpreet had to leave the field in the closing stages of the game against New Zealand, clutching his jaw after being stuck on the face by the stick of Kiwi player. Although he required 10 stitches, coach Michael Nobbs is not ruling him out of the game against a new-look Germany team. "Manpreet is an enthusiastic youngster and he's keen to play, but we'll decide tomorrow," said Nobbs, who gave his wards a rest day to recuperate from the strain of playing matches on two successive days.
Sunil has a strained hamstring and his availability would also be known Tuesday morning after after a fitness test ahead of the game. Adding to the coach's worry is the stiffness in captain Sardar Singh's shoulder. India's next opponent Germany have won the Champions Trophy nine times and won the Olympic gold medal in London, but only three members of the gold medal-winning side are here in this squad.
The Germans began their Champions Trophy campaign with a 3-2 triumph over New Zealand, but succumbed to a shock 1-4 defeat against England. Coach Nobbs is pleased at the way his wards have played so far in this tournament -- India's first major outing since their bottom-place finish at the London Olympics. "It's been a good start and I hope the boys will keep improving," said Nobbs of the team which is relatively younger as many experienced players were dropped for this tournement. "They are a very enthusiastic lot," Nobbs added.