Sreejesh braces for Russian challenge in Olympic hockey qualifier

The shot-stopper also feels the tour to Belgium will be a perfect warm-up ahead of the qualifiers

By Saurabh Shankar ·

Earlier this week, the FIH revealed the draws for the Olympic qualifiers for Tokyo 2020, which saw the Indian men’s team pitted in a double header against 22nd-ranked Russia while the eves face an exciting clash against the United States of America.

Though the men's team - currently fifth in the world rankings - will start as overwhelming favourites in their tie, India’s PR Sreejesh believes that the Russians willl present a stern test despite their lower rank.

“It is every player's dream to play the Olympics; and Russia, who are now investing in hockey and want to do well in this sport, will surely come well-prepared and we can definitely expect a good challenge from them," revealed the Indian goalkeeper at a press conference held in Bengaluru.

Belgian Test

Prior to that crucial Olympic qualifier, Sreejesh and his team mates are scheduled to tour second-ranked Belgium in the last week of September.

The veteran player believes that playing against one of the best teams in hockey will be a perfect challenge and will give the side a good chance to address their shortcomings.

"I think playing the World Champions Belgium who have been in great form will be like a preparatory test before the actual exam. We have been working on an improved defensive structure, better penalty corner defending, and also on scoring opportunities and it will be important to execute this as planned against Belgium," said Sreejesh.

The 31-year-old also had high praise for the younger goalkeepers of India, Suraj Karkera and Krishan Pathak, both of whom were instrumental to India’s success at the Olympic Test event held last month in Japan.

"It's good to see both of them perform well. It is always good to have competition within the team and I am enjoying the role of mentoring them and at the same time improving my own game," the senior player added.

Road to Tokyo

Following their tour of Belgium, the Indian men’s hockey team will be back at Bhubhaneswar’s Kalinga stadium where they face the Russian side on November 1-2.

If they manage to beat Vladimir Konkin’s side in the two-legged tie, India will confirm their ticket for Tokyo. If the Indians are unable to do so in those games, they will have to rely on their world ranking to clinch a spot for the Olympics.