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Saturday, Dec 14, 2019

India face lowly Russia, women up against tricky USA in hockey Olympic qualifiers

The Indian Women’s Hockey Team will be up against USA in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers for a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

other-sports Updated: Sep 09, 2019 19:51 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Delhi
Indian women’s hockey team.
Indian women’s hockey team.(Hockey India)
         

The Indian men’s hockey team has an easy route to 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a two-match qualifier against Russia, the lowest ranked team in the fray. In the draw conducted at the FIH headquarters in Lausanne on Monday, world No. 5 India avoided a clash against arch-rivals Pakistan and drew Russia, ranked 22 in the world.

The women’s team, however, drew a tricky opponent in the USA. Though USA is ranked 13th compared to India’s 9th in the world rankings, they could still prove a handful for Sjoerd Marijne’s squad.

Both Indian teams will play at home at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar from November 1-2. The qualifiers consist of two back-to-back matches and the teams aggregating the most goals will clinch a berth to 2020 Tokyo Olympics, joining the four continental champions and hosts Japan to make up the field of 12 teams for the July 25-August 7 competition to be held at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo.

For the draw, the India men’s team was placed in Pot 1 along with European giants the Netherlands and Germany and were to face a team from Pot 4, which included Pakistan, Austria and Russia, which came into the draw after Egypt withdrew from the contest at the last moment

That made real a possibility of India running into Pakistan, a match that would have been a difficult proposition for Graham Reid’s team despite their recent domination against Pakistan, having been unbeaten in 11 successive matches.

As luck would have it, India drew Russia while Pakistan were pitted against wWrld No 3 the Netherlands and will travel to Amsterdam for their two matches with the Dutch on October 26-27.

India had last played Russia in June in Bhubaneswar, winning 10-0 in FIH Series Finals. However, Russia had beaten Uzbekistan and Poland in the league phase and had given South Africa a tough fight in the knock-out matches.

Can’t be complacent, says Manpreet

Though he would be happy for obvious reasons, skipper Manpreet Singh said they can’t take Russia lightly.

“The weather in June was challenging for them but it may not be the same case this time (in November). I am sure they will come well prepared as it’s the Olympic Qualifiers and they are capable of surprising any team,” Manpreet was quoted as saying in a Hockey India release.

Coach Reid’s focus is on the upcoming away test series against world No 2 Belgium later this month. “I believe training and playing against some of the best (Belgium) in the world will give us a good platform for the qualifier,” 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,” said Reid

Tricky opponent for women

USA could be a tricky opponent, having played against top teams in the FIH Pro League in 2019. They have always done well against India. India and USA had last clashed in the 2018 World Cup when India came back from a goal down to hold USA 1-1 and advance to the play-offs.

“The team has been performing well in the last few months. We have gained momentum at the right time by winning the FIH Women’s Series Finals Hiroshima 2019 and the Olympic Test Event. All the players are confident, very excited to take part in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers at home and they are charged up to achieve the team’s goal. We are focusing on continuing the brilliant communication on the field and maintain our level of performance,” said women’s hockey team coach Marijne.

The draw

Men

October 25-26: Spain v France, Valencia

October 26-27: The Netherlands v Pakistan, Amsterdam

October 26-27: Canada v Ireland, West Vancouver

November 1-2: India v Russia, Bhubaneswar

November 2-3: New Zealand v Korea, Stratford

November 2-3: Germany v Austria, Mönchengladbach

November 2-3: Great Britain v Malaysia, London

Women

October 25-26: Australia v Russia, Perth

October 25-26: China v Belgium, Changzhou

October 25-26: Spain v Korea, Valencia

November 1-2: India v USA, Bhubaneswar

November 2-3: Germany v Italy, Mönchengladbach

November 2-3: Great Britain v Chile, London

November 2-3: Ireland v Canada, Dublin