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Tremendous excitement in team ahead of opening match: Sreejesh

Experienced India hockey team goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, who captained the side during 2016 Rio, has said that there is “tremendous excitement” among the players ahead of their opening match at the Tokyo Olympics and that the team is “mentally prepared for any surprises”.

Having arrived in Tokyo on Sunday morning, Sreejesh said, “There is tremendous excitement among the players in the squad. This is the moment we had all been waiting for. We can’t wait to get on with the matches and give our best and build our momentum match-by-match.

“I think no one can predict any team this time simply because we haven’t seen each other play over the past 15 months. There could be a lot of surprises too and we are mentally prepared for it,” added Sreejesh.

Clubbed in Group A, India will begin their campaign against New Zealand on July 24.

“We need to shake off the nerves quickly and produce a good performance in the opening match. Getting off to a strong start is quite crucial in a tournament like the Olympics. It will give the right momentum for other matches in the group stage,” he added.

Sreejesh said he grew up dreaming of representing India at the Olympics.

“My earliest Olympic memory was of PT Usha and because I come from Kerala, every household knew her name and how close she had come to winning a medal in the Olympics. In hockey of course, I looked up to Dhanraj Pillay and followed his career closely,” said Sreejesh, emphasising the impact the two icons had on his formative years.

Though Sreejesh had made his international debut in 2006, he had to wait another six years to represent India at the Olympics.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t qualify in 2008 for Beijing and hockey was facing a real slump in those days. But things improved. Between 2008 and 2012, the first big aim was to qualify for the London Olympics. Though we had a dismal outing there, the players who stayed on in the core group knew we had to set the bar higher and focus on becoming a dominant team in Asia.

“We aimed at the 2014 Asian Games and a direct qualification for the Rio Olympics,” said the goalkeeper who will be making his third appearance for India at the Olympics.

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