High on form and confidence after last month's Azlan Shah triumph, defending champion India will start as overwhelming favourites in the seven-nation Asia Cup hockey tournament that gets underway in Kuantan, Malaysia on Saturday.
However, India's road to the title won't be a cakewalk as the event will provide Asia's top hockey nations an opportunity to book their place in the 2010 World Cup to be held in New Delhi.
India, the winners of the title twice in 2003 and 2007, will face stiff competition from South Korea, Malaysia, three-time champions Pakistan, Japan and China, who will be vying for the lone place in the 2010 World Cup available from the tournament.
Although, the eight-time Olympic champions have secured their ticket to the World Cup as the host nation, coach-in-charge Harendra Singh has warned against complacency creeping in among the players and said he won't settle for anything less than gold.
"We are here to win and nothing else matters. As hosts we are assured of a place in the 2010 World Cup. But we want to show that we are the top team in Asia. We want to earn our place as champions. So there is no question of us taking it easy," he said.
Unlike Azlan Shah Cup, the Asia Cup field is more tough and will be a test of character for the Indians and Harendra asserted that consistency is one thing which he would be eyeing in the tournament.
"The fieldis tough and competition will be more. We have to play consistent hockey throughout the tournament and take one match at a time," he said.
The coach-in-charge said his boys would continue to play attacking hockey as the team boasts of one of the best forward line-upsin world hockey.
Healso said that the team has worked upon the grey areas during the training camp in Bhopal, especially on their habit of conceding late goals.
"Wehave worked on our weaknesses during the training camp and we are confident of rectifying that during the Asia Cup.
According to the International Hockey Federation ranking, India are the third-highestranked team in the tournament, behind South Korea and Pakistan and Harendra said the Asia Cup triumph will not only act as a motivation for the team, but will also help them climb the ladder in world rankings.
"Ifwe win the Asia Cup we will move up in the world ranking and that will be our motivation."
India will open their campaign against minnows Bangladesh on Saturday and looking at their form and stature in world hockey, the Sandeep Singh-led side would surely eye a big win against their next-doorneighbours to give a perfect start to their title defence journey.
Apartfrom Bangladesh, Pakistan and China are the other two teams in India's Pool B, while South Korea, Malaysia, Japan and Sri Lanka round off Pool B.