Rio de Janeiro, (Brazil), Aug 4 : The Indian men's hockey team captain PR Sreejesh has warned his side against taking minnows Ireland lightly when they begin their Rio Olympic campaign on Saturday.
"The Irish can be unpredictable. They have been doing well in the European Championships and are sturdy and fast on the ball. It won't be an easy game to win and we will need to go full force," stated captain and goalkeeper Sreejesh.
While India are on a mission to end their 36-year-long medal drought in Rio, this will be Ireland's first Olympic appearance since 1908 when they had earned a silver medal.
Going by the recent record, the Indian team being ranked fifth in the FIH world rankings go in as favourites and will be riding on the confidence drawn from their recent win against Ireland at the Six Nations Tournament in Valencia, Spain, in June.
However, chief coach Roelant Oltmans does not want his wards to get complacent about their opponent. "We want to begin on a winning note and carry the momentum forward in the following group stage matches.
We do not want to undermine any team especially at an event like the Olympics where every team wants to win," asserted the chief coach.
Ireland over the past has put up an inspired show beating Malaysia and Pakistan at the 2015 FIH World League semis and with Australia's Oceania Cup win, Ireland booked their berth to Rio.
If history is anything to go by, India has not yet won an opening match at the Olympics since Sydney in 2000 where they had beaten Argentina 3-0.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2012 London Games India was beaten by Holland 3-1 and 3-2 respectively on both occasions.
To turn the tables in India's favour, Sreejesh and his team need to watch out for Ireland's marquee players Mitch Darling, a forward who plays with Rotterdam and their captain and goalkeeper David Harte who won the world goalkeeper of the year award for 2015.
Meanwhile, the Indian women making their first Olympic appearance since Moscow 1980, will face-off with Japan, ranked 10th in the world, on Sunday.
The team led by formidable defender Sushila Chanu will vie to put up a similar show they did when they beat Japan in the World Hockey League last year that kept them in contention for the Olympic qualification.
Though ranked 13 in the FIH world rankings, coach Neil Hawgood feels the girls are upbeat and are eager to make a mark at this Olympics.
"The girls are excited and raring to get on with their first ever Olympic campaign. They have had a decent run in the tournament in the USA where we won a couple of games and will hope to convert the confidence from there into good result in the opening tie," said Hawgood.
Skipper Chanu said her team is excited and up for the challenge. "This is our first Olympics and we want to put up an inspired performance. We have done well against Japan in the past and we are able to execute the plans the coach has drawn for us, I am sure we will be able to succeed against them," expressed Chanu.
The men's team will take on Ireland on Saturday in their first match while the women begin their campaign against Japan on Sunday.