History with Australia, but India look to 'change future'

Sen: An open tournament on the cards at Bhubaneshwar (1:30)

Debayan Sen previews the Hockey World League Finals set to start December 1. (1:30)

When hosts India begin their World League Final campaign with a pool encounter against defending champions Australia in Bhubaneswar on Friday, it will be a landmark occasion for captain and midfielder Manpreet Singh, who will be turning out in his 200th international.

"It has been a long journey and I'm very excited to play it in front of a home crowd," Manpreet said on the eve of the game. "We play Australia first and have to do our best. Mostly all the teams have a mix of youth and experience. We have a good combination too. We have to avail of our chances and score. That will be the difference, because hockey today is very fast and anything is possible."

India coach Sjoerd Marijne downplayed the history between the two teams, with recent results skewed in favour of the Australians. India have lost most of their matches in big-ticket events, including the last two Commonwealth Games finals and the Champions Trophy final of 2016 in a shootout.

"We can only change what happens in the future. We have to learn from the past and not repeat those mistakes in the future," he said. "They will be nervous. That's what I am teaching them. Being nervous is normal. We have to embrace the pressure."

Australian captain Mark Knowles, too, did not pay too much heed to his team's dominance in recent years, citing the 2016 Olympics where Australia failed to finish on the podium despite going into the tournament with top ranking, as an example of how close and competitive hockey has become.

"It was a massive disappointment. We went in as the No.1 team, but didn't play well in key moments of the tournament. We got to the quarterfinals, and we didn't play well where it really counted," he said.

Australia have had two injury-enforced pull-outs and that will mean a first cap for 20-year-old attacking midfielder Lachlan Sharp, who has faced India in two matches before, though for New South Wales. Sharp scored the 56th-minute winner in a 3-2 win that gave his state side the bronze medal in the Australian Hockey League in October, where a representative Indian side was sent to try out largely younger players. Sharp has also been in good form in pre-tournament friendlies against Germany.

Australia are already part of the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup next year, and are also qualified for the Champions Trophy in Netherlands in the summer as the reigning World Cup winners, but Knowles felt finishing 2017 strong, and consequently regaining top ranking, should act as enough motivation for his team.

"We are coming off the World League 3 [Semi-finals in Johannesburg] where we only won third place. We are leading into a home Commonwealth Games and a World Cup. If we are not motivated to play in front of thousand fans in the final tournament of the year, there's something wrong," he said.

"For us, motivation is never an issue. We want to be the absolute best in the game."