The Indian hockey team of men will need to guard against complacency while taking on lower-ranked Russia. Also, a tricky clash awaits Indian women hockey team against USA in Olympic qualifiers this Friday. Both Indian teams are only two matches away from Tokyo visit.
The men’s hockey team led by Manpreet Singh is playing against an easy opponent, Russia, which is ranked 22 in world’s team ranking. Meanwhile, Indian women have a fairly trying job as they face the Americans during the final round of FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
Both the Indian teams will play consecutive matches against Russia and USA this Friday and on Saturday. The aggregate winners at the end of two-match qualifier (each for men and women) will lock their fate in 2020 Tokyo Games.
The Indian men, who are ranked fifth in the world, are expected to play easy games against the Russians.
But coach Graham Reid is very well aware that one bad day in office can ruin India's Olympic dream. So contentment is something which the Indian men cannot pay for in the next two days.
The major development which Indian men saw under Reid in the last 12 months is in their defence structure. Accompanied by Surender Kumar and Junior World Cup-winning team member Harmanpreet Singh, India's defence has been very solid lately.
It will further be super solid with return of Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra in the team.
As Rupinder’s career has been plagued by injuries, he got a fresh lease of life after being dropped from the team following poor show of India at Asian Games 2018. The incident almost cost Rupinder his career before he recuperated his self-confidence and made his way back into the team for the currently held Olympic Qualifiers.
Birendra Lakra, who replaced Varun Kumar after the latter sustained an injury on his shoulder and right bicep, is another player to watch out for in the qualifier round.
Manpreet, the Indian skipper, will man the Indian midfield in company of Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Nilkanata Sharma. While the responsibility of scoring goals upfront is on the shoulders of Mandeep Singh, SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Ramandeep Singh and Simranjeet Singh. The Indian goal is safe underneath veteran PR Sreejesh and Krishan Bahadur Pathak.
While the men would expect an easy outing against the Russians, the scenario is completely different for the women as they are up against world no. 13 USA against whom they have a dismal 4-22 win-loss record.
For Indian women, besides skipper Rani, dragflicker Gurjit Kaur, young forward Lalremsiami and goalkeeper Savita are the key members. India women's team chief coach Sjoerd Marijne said, "We are really excited. These are the two matches we waited to play the whole year. We knew we had to play these matches but didn't know whether we were playing home or away and against whom. We've prepared well. The moment is here and we are ready.”
India captain Rani echoed her coach's sentiment. "Our first target to qualify for the Olympics was the Asian Games and unfortunately we couldn't. As soon as Asian Games got over, our focus shifted to these matches," she said.
"Through the year we have waited as well as prepared for these two matches. We are excited to play in front of a huge home crowd. I don't think we will be under any pressure. At the blow of the whistle our focus shifts to our plan on what we need to do. It is up to us on how we get the crowd on our side," she also added.
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