Feature

Indian men’s hockey at Tokyo 2020 : Know your opponents

Find out what India's hockey players are up against at the Olympics.

By Jay Lokegaonkar ·

After 11 goals in two games against the Russians in the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers in Odisha, India booked their berth in the hockey tournament at Tokyo 2020.

Coach Graham Reid and his men will head to Japan aiming to win the nation's ninth gold-medal in the men's hockey tournament, four clear of the next best - the Netherlands with five.

The FIH recently announced the Pools and the fixture list for the hockey tournament at Tokyo 2020 and while the Indian men's hockey team will be confident of advancing to the knockouts, they do have to negotiate with a couple of tough fixtures and a two potentially tricky opponents.

Here, we take a look at the Indian men's hockey team's Pool stage opponents at Tokyo 2020.

New Zealand

Match date: July 26th 2020, Oi Hockey Stadium South Pitch

The 1976 Olympic champions, New Zealand, will be an interesting challenge for the Indian men’s hockey team in the opening match of their Tokyo 2020 campaign.

The Black Sticks are ranked ninth in the FIH standings and endured a below par campaign in the 2019 FIH Pro League. They failed to win a single match out of 14, losing all but three in the regulation time. They managed draws against Belgium, Spain, and Germany but were beaten in a shootout on all three occasions and finished bottom of the final standings.

The New Zealand side will be led by defender Blair Tarrant. The 29-year-old defender is one of the most experienced players in the Black Sticks' roster with over 200 appearances to his name. Midfielders Arun Panchia, Shea McAleese, Hugo Inglis, and Steve Edwards form a midfield quartet that boasts of over 1,000 appearances for the New Zealand men's national team amongst themselves.

Upfront, the Indian defence will be tasked with containing veteran Simon Child and Stephen Jenness, both of whom have been prolific scorers for the Black Sticks for the better part of the past decade.

Australia

Match date: July 26th 2020, Oi Hockey Stadium North Pitch

The Indian men’s hockey team’s biggest test of the pool stage will come against former four-time FIH World Cup winners and current world number one side Australia.

The Kookaburras will start as one of the pre-tournament favourites and will be expected to finish top of pool A. The six-time Commonwealth Games gold-medallists played 21 times in 2019 and won 16 matches.

They played India twice in 2019, winning both the fixtures comfortably. Last crowned Olympic champions at Athens 2004, the Australian side is laced with championship pedigree and have a roster stacked with some of the world’s best talents.

Among those are co-captains Aran Zalewski and veteran midfielder Eddie Ockenden, both of whom are nominated for the FIH Men’s Player of the Year.

Forwards Jacob Whetton and the goal-machine Blake Govers will be the Kookaburras biggest threats in attack whereas young defender Jake Harvie and the experienced Jeremy Hayward will try to keep the Indian forwards at bay.

Spain

Match date: 28th July 2020, Oi Hockey Stadium South Pitch

Two-time EuroHockey Championships winners Spain has featured in every Olympic Games since 1960, making it to the final three times, most recently at Beijing 2008 when they came up short against Germany for the gold medal.

The Redsticks have qualified for every Summer Olympic Games since 1960

The Redsticks won just two of their 14 matches in the 2019 FIH Pro League, which came against Australia and New Zealand - both of whom are also in pool A. While their results in 2019 were mostly underwhelming, they did score some notable wins over Argentina and Great Britain at home.

They played the Indian men’s hockey team twice in 2019 in Belgium and were beaten 1-6 and 1-5. The two sides will meet another couple of times before the Olympics, as they are scheduled to play each other in the 2020 FIH Pro League in June.

Argentina

Match date: 30th July 2020, Oi Hockey Stadium North Pitch

India’s second-biggest test of the pool stage will be against world number four and reigning Olympic champions Argentina. The South Americans shocked the world at Rio 2016 and will be aiming to retain their title at Tokyo 2020.

The Argentina men’s hockey team will be aiming to defend their Olympic crown at Tokyo 2020

Los Leones won six and lost five of their 14 matches in the 2019 FIH Pro League and had a rather rocky finish to the year, losing to Spain and Belgium in a series of Test matches.

However, the Argentines remain a dangerous side owing to a star-studded talent pool that is led by captain Pedro Ibarra and defender Gonzalo Peillat.

Veteran forward Lucas Vila had a fantastic year in 2019 and is one of the nominees for the FIH Men’s Player of the Year. The big-game experience of defenders Juan Lopez, Matias Rey and midfielders Ignacio Ortiz, Lucas Rossi will come in handy for Los Leones at the Olympics.

Japan

Match date: 31st July 2020, Oi Hockey Stadium North Pitch

Host nation Japan will be making their first appearance at the Olympics after 52 years and will be the underdogs in pool A.

Reigning Asian Games hockey gold-medallists Japan will be making their return to the Summer Olympic Games after 52 years

However, the Samurai side have shown that they have the credentials to mix it with the best: beating Pakistan and Malaysia on their way to winning gold at the Asian Games last year.

Despite their recent rise, India will be confident of picking up a victory against Japan, having beaten them three times in 2019 by an aggregate of 15-5.

The top four sides from each pool will qualify for the quarter finals, scheduled for Sunday 2nd August.

The semi-finals of the competition will be played on Tuesday 4th August before the bronze medal and gold medal matches on Thursday 6th August 2020.