India will get their first taste of the 2020 FIH Pro League on January 18 when they take on the Netherlands at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar.
The six-month-long round-robin style tournament will conclude on June 28, just under a month before the 2020 Summer Olympics, meaning that the FIH Pro League will be the last bit of competitive action that the teams will compete in before Tokyo 2020.
The Olympic Channel got in touch with Indian men’s hockey team captain Manpreet Singh to get an insight into the camp’s mindset ahead of the tournament and the skipper believes the FIH Pro League will be a great test for his side ahead of Tokyo 2020.
Manpreet Singh, who is currently in Odisha with the team preparing for the Indian hockey team’s debut in the FIH Pro League, believes that their outstanding year in 2019 has given them a lot of confidence ahead of the Summer Olympic challenges that await them.
“If you look at our year, we did well in every tournament that we participated in,” said Manpreet in an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel. “Be it the FIH Men’s Series Finals in June or the Test series in Belgium where we played the hosts as well Spain and beat them.”
The men’s Indian hockey team was not only triumphant but dominant in both those events. Drawn in the pool A alongside Poland, Russia and Uzbekistan in the FIH Men’s Series Finals 2019 in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, India upstaged their opponents by an aggregate score of 23-1 to top their pool. They then humbled Japan 7-2 in the semi-final, before beating South Africa 5-1 to win the tournament.
The Belgium Test series, featuring India, Spain and hosts Belgium saw India win all five of its matches, scoring 20 while conceding just four. However, nothing was more important for the Indian hockey team than qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
“Our biggest goal in 2019 was to book our berth at the Olympics,” said Manpreet Singh. And much like everything else this past year, the team did so in style. In the FIH Olympic Qualifiers against Russia, India won the first leg 4-2 before winning the second by a commanding scoreline of 7-2 to ensure their place in the hockey tournament at Tokyo 2020. The skipper described those victories as “a big relief”.
Manpreet Singh believes the FIH Pro League will be a good screen test for the Indian hockey team’s preparation ahead of Tokyo 2020. “The FIH Pro League will be a fantastic test for us and it’ll be great if we could replicate our form from 2019,” said the skipper.
“Argentina, Great Britain and Spain are three excellent teams and if we manage to hold our own at the FIH Pro League, we’d have good momentum and a positive frame of mind ahead of the Olympics,” he added. “And the fact that we’ll be meeting these teams at Tokyo 2020 also makes it important, as beating them would give us a psychological edge over them.”
While winning their debut is India’s first aim at the FIH Pro League, Manpreet Singh suggests the team also has some other priorities. “We want to finish as high as possible (in the FIH Pro League standings). But we also want to experiment during this tournament with our line-ups and get everyone going. We have plenty of youngsters in the side who’ll be flying as part of the team for the Olympics and it is important that they are ready for it,” explained the captain.
The Indian hockey team will take on the Netherlands in a double-header on January 18-19, before hosting Belgium on February 8-9. For the full list of the men’s Indian hockey team’s fixtures at the FIH Pro League, click here.