India will be kicking off their FIH Pro League campaign against the Netherlands on January 18.
Netherlands' opening encounter against the Indian hockey team in the FIH Pro League next week is expected to be a tough ask for the visiting team, according to Dutch coach Maximiliano Caldas.
The last time India faced the Netherlands at home was in the 2018 Men's World Cup, where the hosts had lost 1-2 in the quarter-final to end their campaign abruptly. But, Caldas isn’t relying on their past results.
"The matches against India are a very important opener. Playing against India at their home ground is challenging no doubt but it is also very exciting because we love playing in Bhubaneswar," said the Netherlands coach from Kuala Lumpur where his team is undergoing preparations.
Australian Graham Reid, the current Indian hockey coach, has worked as an assistant for a substantial amount of time during his time in the Netherlands under Caldas, with the Argentine Olympian confident of Reid's coaching abilities.
"Graham is a very experienced coach and he is very clear about the process and the kind of hockey he expects from the players," said Caldas. "I expect India to be as competitive as always and playing in Odisha, they will be very good."
The FIH Pro League will field nine teams in the men’s and women’s category, with each of the nations playing home and away matches over a period of two years.
The men’s category has Olympic champions Argentina, world champions Belgium, Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Spain apart from India.
Manpreet Singh and Co. will be playing a total of eight home games, with six matches in January and February and two games in May.
After India’s double-header against the Netherlands on 18 and 19 January, India will host Belgium on February 8 and 9 before Australia visits them on February 22 and 23.
Before Indian hockey welcomes New Zealand on May 23 and 24, the men’s team will be travelling to Germany for a double-header on April 25 and 26, and to Great Britain on May 2 and 3. India will be ending their FIH Pro League round-robin matches in Spain on June 13 and 14.
With the 2020 Olympics scheduled to begin from July 24, the initial FIH Pro League stages will be the perfect opportunity for nations to try and test their squads ahead of the sporting extravaganza.
"The players and combinations we wanted to test were experimented during the previous edition of the 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," Caldas said.
The 46-year-old Caldas also pointed out that he will have to be cautious about not over-burning his players with extensive preparations in the FIH Pro League as well as the domestic leagues back in the Netherlands.
"It is very difficult for us as we will need to plan club hockey as well which is very important,” he said. “Some of the players may not be with us during that time.
“We need to make sure we utilise their time with us, but also make sure they are fresh for the club matches as the matches there will be high-level too. In that sense, we will be planning cautiously and managing players’ load. We will monitor the players in the right way physically and mentally so they are at their best at the right time," Caldas concluded.