The Indian men eased past Russia while women made things tough for themselves against an enterprising United States before clinching the double-leg FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
Powered byAfter a thumping 7-1 win over Russia in the 2nd Olympic qualifier on Saturday at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India men’s hockey team booked a spot the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with an aggregate total of 11-3 after the two qualifying matches.
The Indian women edged out USA 6-5 (5-1, 1-4). Both teams got off to poor starts but showed fighting spirit, especially the women who looked down and out at half-time in the second match, trailing 0-4 with USA having tied the aggregate scores. Skipper Rani Rampal’s goal then sealed qualification in regulation time.
With nine months to go for the Olympics, India coach Graham Reid was quick to recognise the areas where the side needs to improve in the buildup to the big event.
Speaking to reporters after the match, Reid said: “For me, we need to get better at finishing, in goal shooting and goal scoring. We are creating more opportunities, which is great. Now we need to start getting a little bit more return. We also need to be working on our deep defence. We need to get tighter. We are giving too many opportunities to the opposition.”
Indian hockey can heave a sigh of relief that both teams have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. The men eased past Russia while women made things tough for themselves against an enterprising United States before clinching the double-leg FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
However, the games exposed shortcomings that the teams will have to iron out before action starts at Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo on July 25. India, the most successful men’s Olympics hockey team (eight gold, one silver and two bronze) have not even qualified for the semi-final since winning gold at boycott-marred Moscow in 1980. They thrashed 22nd-ranked Russia 11-3 on aggregate here, winning 4-2 and 7-1.
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India is set to compete in the nine-team FIH Pro League tournament in which they will be competing against some of the best teams in the world, including current Pro League Champions Australia, World Champions Belgium and Olympics Champions Argentina. With the tournament set to begin from January, Reid sees it as an opportunity to build up his squad for the Olympics.
“Pro League is a great opportunity. We have a squad of 32-33 players for the tournament. We will get a chance to give opportunities to try a number of players. It will help us to work out our Olympics squad. There are a lot of games to be played during this period. If all of them play all of these games, then they won’t be in the best shape for the Olympics. So we now need to plan it all,”India men’s coach Graham Reid
He further added that the Pro League helps the Indian team in knowing their competition schedule for the next year. “One of the things the Pro League does is to set our competition schedule for us from here on to the Olympics. We will have a three-week training session in November. This will be a rehash of all that we has happened in the qualifiers. Then we will have a much better idea of what we plan on bringing to the table after Christmas,” he said.
Pro League is set to begin in January and will run till June. “We got nine months to get as good as we can. To get better and better and better. If we focus on the process, the results will look after itself,” Reid signed off.
“We all can see, we played well in one half. Now we have to do it for the entire match. I am proud of the fighting spirit. We played Germany in the third-fourth place match of the 2017 Hockey World League Finals and (they) had no energy. It was the same here. But I am happy we changed it. That’s the quality of this team.”Sjoerd Marijne, chief coach of Indian women’s team
India will play in the Pro League next year, taking on top teams like Belgium, Argentina, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain and Spain
This article was originally published in HindustanTimes.com