The Indian Men’s Hockey Team will be up against World No. 22 Russia in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers for a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The draw which involved 14 teams was held at the headquarters of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in Lausanne, Switzerland on Monday. The FIH Hockey Olympic qualifiers will each feature two nations playing two back-to-back matches, with nations drawn to play each other based on their rankings at the end of the last 2018 / 2019 Continental Championship, namely the Oceania Cup (8 September).
India had registered a sensational 10-0 win against Russia when they last played against them during the FIH Series Final in Bhubaneswar earlier this year. The Russian team, on the other hand, had won 12-1 against Uzbekistan, 3-2 against Poland and lost a close 1-2 match against South Africa in the knockout stage.
Considering they are a team who can be good in defence, Indian Team Skipper Manpreet Singh said they can’t take the Russian squad lightly. He said, “As our Chief Coach Graham Reid says, we cannot take any team lightly and we need to respect every opponent. There is no room for complacency especially because we have seen what Russia is capable of. The weather conditions back in June was challenging for them but it may not be the same case this time. I am sure they will come well prepared as it’s the Olympic Qualifiers and they are capable of surprising any team hence it is important we remain focused on our own performance and play our best hockey.”
The host team India will be riding on confidence following a good show at the Olympic Test event in Tokyo where a young squad led by defender and drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh remained unbeaten against Malaysia (6-0), Japan (6-3) and beat New Zealand (5-0) in the Final to win the tournament. Earlier this year, the team successfully competed in the FIH Series Final in Bhubaneswar where the Manpreet Singh-led team beat South Africa (5-1) in the title round.
“The team is shaping up well under Chief Coach Graham Reid. He brings a lot of positivity to the core group and believes in aggressive, attacking hockey and we have been focused on our team goal of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” added Manpreet Singh on the sidelines of the ongoing National Coaching Camp in SAI, Bengaluru.
Meanwhile, Indian Team Chief Coach Graham Reid emphasised that playing World No .2 Belgium in September will help them step-up their performance ahead of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
He said, “We have built some good momentum with this young squad and I am satisfied with how focused this unit has been. They are committed to achieving the Olympic Qualification and in that pursuit we continue to emphasis on improving our defence and working on creating quality opportunities in the circle during this on-going camp. I believe training and playing against some of the best competition (Belgium) in the world will give us a good platform for the qualifiers.”