After Olympic qualification was assured in emphatic style against Russia, the Indian mens hockey team can now turn their attention to the FIH Pro League.
India did not take part in the inaugural edition of the competition that pits the nine top nations against each other in a home-and-away format, with the top-four making it to a Grand Final weekend.
Their omission meant that they had to follow a different path to the 2020 Olympics, following the FIH World Series route that eventually saw them see them advance through the qualifiers.
However, come the Olympic year, the team will turn out in the Pro League, with a match at home against the Netherlands on January 18th being their first taste of the tournament.
The best tune-up
India’s ace drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh believes that the Pro League will provide the side with the best possible platform to prepare for the Tokyo Games in July next year.
“Our aim was to make sure we qualified for the Olympics, and now that we have secured our place, it is now time to put everything into preparing for the Olympic Games,” said Rupinder Pal in a statement released by Hockey India.
“We have nine months to prepare for the quadrennial event, and playing in the FIH Pro League will serve as good preparation for us. We will be able to determine where we stand against the top teams, and we will have enough time to make improvements and corrections in our game leading up to the Olympics," he explained.
While playing the top teams in the world just ahead of the Olympics was an exciting prospect in itself, it’s the home-and-away format that excited the Indian drag-flicker the most.
“The Pro League was a great success in its first edition, and we are all very excited to be a part of it next year. These matches will be a great test for us, especially playing against the best teams from around the world. We will be hosting as well as touring some very strong teams in the next eight months, and I can't wait to start our preparations for the same," said the 28-year-old Indian.
Here to stay
2018 was a testing year for Rupinder Pal with the defender finding it difficult to force his way back into the side after an injury layoff. But having helped the side secure an Olympic slot with their comprehensive win over Russia, Rupinder Pal was eager to get going in 2020.
“It was an amazing feeling to be back in the India blue after having missed out on some major tournaments last year. I was determined to perform well for my team and make sure that we secured our place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” he said.
“Russia gave us a tough fight, but we showed our quality in the end and secured the two wins. The comeback was good for me, and it now gives me a lot of confidence to do better in the upcoming season.”
Here is the schedule of matches that India will play in the FIH Pro League next year:
January 18 & 19: India v Netherlands
February 8 & 9: India v Belgium
February 22 & 23: India v Australia
April 25 & 26: Germany v India
May 2 & 3: Great Britain v India
May 23 & 24: India v New Zealand
June 5 & 6: Argentina v India
June 13 & 14: Spain v India
In 2021, India will play the reverse fixtures ahead of the FIH Pro League finals.