Both the Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams have got relatively easy draws in their pursuit to qualify for 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. (More Sports News)
In the draw held at the FIH headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland on Monday, Manpreet Singh-led side was drawn with World No. 22 Russia.
Russia qualified for the draw on Sunday as the next best-ranked team after Egypt pulled out of the Qualifiers.
The Indian men’s team, ranked world number 5, was in Pot 1 alongside The Netherlands and Germany and avoided Pakistan and Austria from Pot 3.
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).
Eight-time Olympic champions 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.
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.”
Among other FIH Olympic matches in the men’s section, Netherlands will host Pakistan, Germany will play Russia, Great Britain are up against Malaysia, Spain have drawn France, New Zealand will play Korea and Canada have been pitted against Ireland.
In the women’s section, India will be up against World No. 13 the United States of America.
The women’s team will be riding on confidence following a series of good performances in the recent events. Last year, when they faced USA, India played out a hard-fought 1-1 draw against them to qualify for the knockout stages of the Women’s World Cup in London. India were 0-1 down when Margaux Paolino scored in the 11th minute, but Captain Rani levelled the scores in the 31st minute. The Indian team held their nerve and ensured a place in the next stage against a strong USA team.
The five-match series during India’s tour of England in September will serve as the perfect series for the Indian Women’s Hockey Team to prepare for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
“I’ve always believed that the opponent we play does not matter as long as we are better prepared and that’s been our focus. I understand there has been a lot of suspense over which team we might draw to play against in the Olympic Qualifiers but we didn’t want to let it come in the way of our preparations. We knew the areas we had to work on to be in the best form to play two back-to-back matches and we are working towards winning them and qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics 2020,” stated Indian Team Captain Rani.
In other encounters, Australia will play Russia, Germany will lock horns with Italy, Great Britain are up against Chile, Spain have drawn Korea, Ireland will face Canada and China are slated to meet Belgium.
It’s worth mentioning that India completed a double, by winning both the men’s and women’s event in the Olympics Test events in Tokyo.