The Indian hockey team return to FIH Pro League action after a strong showing against Belgium last time around, with an equally stern test awaiting as they play host to world no. 2 Australia in Bhubaneswar.
India is currently third in the FIH Pro League standings with eight points from four matches so far. Apart from the historic win against table-toppers Belgium, Graham Reid’s squad have also beaten the Netherlands in the opening round.
The Indian hockey team can go level on points with the Red Lions if they can secure consecutive wins in regulation time against Australia on Friday and Saturday.
The clash against Australia means the Indian hockey team will have played the world’s top three ranked teams in their first three rounds of FIH Pro League.
Despite bagging 12 goals in four games, the Indian hockey team have been guilty of spurning chances. The entire forward line was guilty of missing opportunities across their matches in different junctures, including Mandeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh and Vivek Prasad.
Lalit Upadhyay, Manpreet in-form for India
After being recalled to the side in September last year, Varanasi-born Lalit Upadhyay has become an integral member of the side, scoring twice in the games against the Netherlands and winning one Man of the Match award in the process.
The 26-year old also won a penalty against Belgium, with numerous penetrations through the Red Lions’ defensive structure.
FIH Player of the Year and skipper Manpreet Singh has been at his brilliant best but will want his teammates to step up, as he would depend on attacking thrust from the wide areas as well and extra support from the midfield.
The Indian hockey team has conceded nine goals in their four games. However, a lot of that can be put down to the form of their goalkeepers, PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak. Both goalkeepers were in imperious form against Belgium making eight saves, a lot of them from point-blank range.
India tie to serve as Olympic preparation for Australia
On the other hand, Australia find themselves in the fifth spot with six points from four matches. The Kookaburras began their campaign with defeats against Belgium but they bounced back with resounding victories over Great Britain in their last ties.
Led by captain Aran Zalewski, the Kookaburras will know that a win can take them above their opponents in the FIH Pro League standings and can keep them in good stead come Tokyo 2020.
“I think it serves us as good preparation to be facing India away from home in this important Olympic year,” Zalewski said.
“The Indian team has also done well so far, so we’re looking forward to playing them here. We also have a week to prepare for the matches, so we’re hoping we can acclimatise with the conditions and put up a strong show,” the 28-year-old added.
Where to watch the FIH Pro League
The FIH Pro League, with the Indian hockey team taking on Australia on Friday (February 21) and Saturday (February 22), will be shown live on the Star Sports network and will be streamed on Hotstar. Coverage starts at 7pm both days.