Manpreet, Rani to lead Indian teams at Olympic qualifiers
While striker SV Sunil has been named the deputy to Manpreet for their tie against Russia, goalkeeper Savita Punia will be the vice-captain of the women’s team when they take on world number 13, the USA.
The men’s side includes goalkeepers PR Sreejesh and Krishan Bahadur Pathak, while the defence is likely to be marshalled by experienced drag-flickers Rupinderpal Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh with Varun Kumar, Surender Kumar, Gurinder Singh and Amit Rohidas in their company.
All eyes on Ramandeep
Manpreet will shoulder the responsibilities in the midfield along with Nilakanta Sharma, Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, and Simranjeet Singh while the attack will bank on Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, SV Sunil, Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh.
The team comes into the encounter on the back of a highly satisfactory tour of Belgium where they recorded an all-win run against the world champions and Spain in their five matches. Speaking to the Olympic Channel, Sunil said that the victories have augured well for the side, but it was their training sessions with the Netherlands side that was a learning experience according to him.
“We trained along with the senior team of the Netherlands before our matches. We saw the intensity in their practice and we played at that pace in that session. That was a great experience he said,” he said.
Wary against complacency
Ranked 22 in the world, the Russians will come into the tie as clear underdogs. But the Indian vice-captain was clear that his team was in no mood to take their opponents lightly. “Rankings don't matter. We need to respect the opponent and not take them lightly,” Sunil said.
“We are preparing accordingly. The aim is to give our best and not look at who we are facing. We have had such experiences in the past and the team has learnt from such mistakes. We won't repeat that again,” said the Indian striker recollecting India’s show against Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games where they needed a last gasp goal to record a 4-3 win.
Meanwhile, the head coach of the women’s team, Sjoerd Marijne, has gone with an unchanged side for the qualifier, showing faith in the side that produced quality shows against Great Britain.
Goalkeepers Savita and Rajani Etimarpu have been included along with drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur, Deep Grace Ekka, Reena Khokhar, Salima Tete, Namita Toppo, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Nikki Pradhan, Monika, Neha Goyal, Lilima Minz, Captain Rani, Vandana Katariya, Navneet Kaur, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur and Sharmila Devi.
Speaking about his side to Hockey India, Marijne said: “We have retained the 18-member team from our preparatory tour of England. We have a good balance and mixture of players in the squad and keeping in mind our objective of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, I feel it is important to stay in the rhythm with the same players who performed well in the preparatory tour. We now focus on making sure that we leave no stone unturned when we take on the USA in the two matches.”