Ipoh, Malaysia: Bolstered by the return of midfielder Manpreet Singh, India will seek to dominate the hard-tackling Canada tomorrow and boost their standing in the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh.
The bereaved Manpreet last night returned from India after his father's funeral to join his team-mates for a training session this morning, giving coach Roelant Oltmans some options of tackling the rivals, who on Saturday overtook India on the round-robin league standings.
Canada defeated Japan 3-1 to take their points tally to four from three outings, having lost 1-3 to Pakistan and holding defending champions New Zealand to a 1-1 draw.
India have three points from two matches, having defeated Japan 2-1 in their opening outings and then suffering a 1-5 defeat by World champions Australia.
Manpreet brings a lot of stability to the India's game-plan as he often takes up the centre-half's duties from Indian captain Sardar Singh when the team is seeking to dominate. When under pressure, Manpreet is adept at playing a deep defender's role and falls back to be the third full-back.
The news of his father's demise reached Manpreet just hours before India's opening fixture on Wednesday. He left for home just as the Indian team stepped on to the turf wearing black arm bands and observed a minute's silence.
In Manpreet's absence, the Indian midfield lost its semblance of competitiveness against World champions Australia in the last outing.
The Canadians have often proved to be troublesome to the Indians as they pack the defence and bank on quick counter-attacks to exert pressure on the rival citadel.
Defending against the quick turnovers has been problem for India and coach Oltmans is seeking to teach the young players in the squad ways to plug the gaps when falling back to defend on counters.
Oltmans was on Saturday seen observing the Canadians from the sidelines, trying to get acquainted with the opponents, whom India do not get to play often. India's last encounter with Canada was a year ago here at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup when India prevailed 5-3.
This is the first time the Indian team under coach Oltmans will be taking on Canada, who no longer claim to be the Pan American champions, but are among the four teams at this tournament to have qualified for the Olympics at Rio de Janeiro.
Not having played against the Canadians for some time, coach Oltmans is obviously vary of the surprise element.
Skipper Sardar, who has played against Canada several times in the past, says India will go out looking for full points in tomorrow's encounter.
"We'll be looking to repeat out winning show of last year against Canada, but they are not to be taken lightly," said Sardar.
"We've provided exposure to a lot out our youngsters here," Sardar said. "The coach has come to this tournament with specific targets and the gains will be visible with every match."
Canada captain Scott Tupper expressed happiness at the way his team was playing.
"We take a lot of pride in our game and that should show every time we get on the pitch," Tupper said.
Playing a close-marking game and banking on quick turnovers, the Canadians held defending champions New Zealand to a 1-1 draw on Friday.
The way the Canadians have played in the last two games is quite different from their show in the opening fixture against Pakistan, which they lost 1-3 in extreme hot and humid conditions.
Coach Anthony Farry expects the match against India to be tough, but promised to put up a keen contest.
"India's got some super-fast players and we need to be at our best to tackle them," said Farry. "We have an idea about the way the Indians play and we're eager to play better than we've done so far in this tournament.
"We're getting comfortable playing against top teams, but it does not stop us from improving," Farry added.