The Indian men’s hockey team will get a first taste of the FIH Pro League when they host European heavyweights Netherlands for a double-header over the weekend (January 18-19) at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar.
The 2020 edition of the Pro League assumes extra significance as the competition will be an opportunity for the Tokyo 2020 bound teams to assess themselves against strong opponents.
After their tussle with the Dutch, the Indian hockey team will host World champions Belgium (February 8-9) and Australia (February 21-22) before setting off for a European tour that will see them face Germany (April 25-26) and Great Britain (May 2-3).
The Manpreet Singh-led side will then return home to take on New Zealand (May 23-24) before departing for their final two fixtures against reigning Olympic champions Argentina (June 5-6) and finally, Spain (June 13-14).
All eyes on a strong start
With the FIH Pro League designed with an intent of taking top-level hockey to various centres across the world, there is expected to be no dearth of quality oppositions, and the Indians would expect to be challenged on all counts, even at home.
Indian head coach Graham Reid has reinforced the importance of a strong start and its impact heading into the Tokyo Games.
“It will be important to start strong and sharp in the Pro League with our first three encounters against the top three teams in the world. We will be focusing on getting our structures right and honing our set plays as preparation for our Olympic campaign,” he said.
Meanwhile, his counterpart, Maximiliano Caldas, assured that the Dutch would line up their most competitive side in this year’s FIH Pro League, saying, “The players and combinations we wanted to test were experimented during the previous edition of FIH Pro League. This edition we will have our most competitive team as this will be the stepping-stone for us to be the best at Tokyo 2020.”
Battle of the best
Brinkman might have been relatively quiet in the past few matches that he’s played for the Dutch side, but it’s the 24-year-old’s ability to wreak havoc in the striking circle that makes him a key figure in the team mix. Add to the threat Van der Weerden brings from his drag flicks, the Dutch team could be an unstoppable force if they are allowed to have their way.
Challenging this well-drilled unit will be an Indian team that has grown from strength to strength in the past year. Though one could argue that India didn’t face any quality opposition in a competitive fixture last season, Manpreet Singh and Co. made the most of the opportunities that came their way to test themselves and posted a few handsome wins.
The team will be hoping to take heart from their performance last season when they line-up against the Netherlands at the Kalinga, and trying to help them make a statement will be Mandeep Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh and the skipper himself, Manpreet.
While 2019 saw the best of Mandeep as he top-scored for the country across all competitions, he will know that all of that won’t matter for much if he fails to continue his form in 2020. Rupinder Pal Singh has made a swift return to set up after his injury, and his colleagues will be hoping to see him command the backline in the FIH Pro League.
With two teams hungry for success going up against each other over the weekend one can surely hope for a cracking contest as the FIH Pro League finally makes its way to the Indian shores.
Where to watch the FIH Pro League
The FIH Pro League will be televised live on the Star Sports network and Hotstar with India taking on the Netherlands on Saturday (January 18, 7:00 PM IST) and Sunday (January 19, 5:00 PM IST).