Hockey Oly qualifiers: India men to play Russia, women face US

Lausanne,  The Indian men’s hockey team will take on Russia while the women’s side will clash with the US in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifiers scheduled to be held as a two-match series between October 27 and November 3.

Both the men’s and women’s teams are likely to play their qualifiers in Bhubaneswar.

The draw for the two-legged qualifiers was held here on Monday.

The FIH Olympic qualifiers will feature two nations playing two back-to-back matches based on their rankings at the end of the last 2018/2019 Continental Championship, namely the Oceania Cup (September 8).

The Indian men’s team had trounced Russia 10-0 when the two teams last met in the FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar earlier this year.

Russia, on the other hand, had won 12-1 against Uzbekistan, 3-2 against Poland and lost 1-2 to South Africa in the knockout stage.

India skipper Manpreet Singh said that they can’t take the Russian squad lightly.

“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 were challenging for them but it may not be the 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 that we remain focussed on our own performance and play our best game,” he said.

Hosts 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 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 in a lot of positivity to the core group and believes in aggressive, attacking hockey. We have been focused on our team goal of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” said Manpreet on the sidelines of the ongoing national camp in Bengaluru.

Meanwhile, Reid emphasised that playing world No. 2 Belgium in September will help them step-up their performance ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.

“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,” he said.

The chief coach of the women’s team, Sjoerd Marijne, said the side is well-prepared and excited to play the Olympic qualifiers at home.

“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 in Hiroshima and the Olympic Test Event.

“The players 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 Marijne.

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