New Delhi: Coming at the back of an energy-sapping Hockey India League (HIL), the FIH World League is going to test the fitness of Sardar Singh's boys, but the India skipper says there is no room for tired legs as only the winners of the six-team tournament are assured to progress to Round 3 while the second-placed team waits to know its fate once all four Round 2 events conclude. Three highest-ranked second-place finishers from the four Round 2 events also progress to the next round.
By virtue of being ranked between world number 9 and 16, India - number 11 - got a direct entry into the second round of the World League that also doubles up as World Cup qualifier.
"Every player has played at least 12 matches in the last month, but that's not an excuse. There is no room for tiredness. I am sure India will progress to the next round," Sardar told media at the sidelines of a function, where Hockey India announced Cairn India, an oil and gas company under the Vedanta Group, as its co-sponsor for a three-year period.
"Coach [Michael Nobbs] allowed most players recovery period [after the HIL] and we started with light training on Thursday. Fortunately, no player is carrying any injury," he said wearing the Cairn logo on his jersey after the official announcement of the multi-crore deal.
Talking about the team's chances, Sardar was quick to point out Ireland - ranked number 15 - as a possible threat. "Ireland is a good side, but it's not that we are taking others lightly. We may win some games easily, but that can't be taken for granted. We will be on our toes," Sardar, who led Delhi Waveriders to the final in the HIL, said.
Sardar also praised youngsters, especially Mandeep Singh who scored 10 goals in the HIL for Ranchi Rhinos, for what they bring into the team. "If you saw the HIL, Mandeep is clearly class apart. His opportunism in the striking circle is world class. Same for players like Malak Singh. They are a big plus for the team."
Apart from hosts India and Ireland, China, Oman, Fiji and Bangladesh are the other teams part of the men's draw. In the women's draw - that will be played simultaneously at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here - world number 9 Japan are the favourites, closely followed by number 12 India. Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Fiji are the other teams in the fray. From the women's competition, top two finishers in the round-robin format progress to Round 3.
The tournament begins February 18 when India take on Kazakhstan & Fiji in the women's and men's draw respectively.