India hockey teams draw Russia and US in Olympic qualifiers
The India hockey teams now know what stands before them and a place at next year's Olympics.
The men’s team will take on Russia while the women’s side will line-up against the United States of America in their qualifiers in November.
The match-ups were announced as the official draw was held at the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
As per the new qualifying system, the teams will be involved in a two-match series in Bhubaneshwar on November 1-2, with the winners punching their tickets to Tokyo 2020.
The men’s team is expected to come into the qualifiers high on confidence after their superior performance against the Russians in the FIH Series Finals at the Kalinga Stadium, which is also the venue for the upcoming qualifiers.
The Indians had registered a convincing 10-0 over their opponents in the group stage of the competition in June.
But despite displaying such superior performances against the opponents in the recent past, Indian skipper Manpreet Singh insists that they will not underestimate their upcoming rivals:
“We cannot take any team lightly and we need to respect every opponent. There is no room for complacency, especially because we have seen what Russia is capable of,” said Manpreet.
The skipper was referencing Russia’s commendable performance in June that saw them beat Uzbekistan 12-1 and Poland 3-2, and finish behind India in the group stage:
“The weather conditions back in June was challenging for them but it may not be the same case this time. I am sure they will come well prepared as it's the Olympic Qualifiers and they are capable of surprising any team, hence it is important we remain focused on our own performance and play our best hockey.”
Tough task ahead
While the men’s team have been handed relatively comfortable opponents for the qualifiers, the same cannot be said about the Indian women’s team.
Up against the United States, India will have to bring their ‘A’ game to the fore if they are to get past this hurdle and qualify for the Olympics in 2020.
While the Indians have been in fine form this season, the Americans seem to have taken their game a notch higher this year.
The FIH Pro League saw them rub shoulders with the best in the business and claim a handful of positive results.
After having won the gold in the previous two editions, the team recently took home bronze at the Pan-American Games in Lima.
However, Indian skipper Rani Rampal is striking a confident note ahead of the test ahead:
“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. 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.”