For India's hockey teams, the moment of truth has arrived. Will the men's and women's teams book their tickets for Tokyo 2020?
All eyes will be on Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium between November 1-2, as both the men’s and women’s teams play their FIH Olympic qualifiers. The Indian eves face a tricky test facing the 13th-ranked United States while the men’s team will take on Russia.
The team with the highest aggregate score after the two games will book their place at the 2020 Olympics - if the teams are level, then a nerve-wracking shootout will decide the winner.
High on confidence
The men’s team - currently the number five team in the world rankings - were undefeated in their recent European tour, where they played 2019 EuroHockey Championship winners Belgium and the world's eighth-ranked nation Spain. Their drag flick expert Harmanpreet Singh was in splendid form in that series, emerging as top scorer in the two games against Spain.
Apart from that, experienced fullback Rupinder Pal Singh has also made a good comeback following an injury layoff in the Belgian tour, and will form an integral part of the Indian backline against Russia. The Indian forwards have also had no problems finding the back of the net, with the team scoring at least five goals in three of their five tour matches.
With a good blend of youth and experience in their team, the hosts start off as overwhelming favourites against world number 22 Russia. The last time the two sides met in the FIH Men’s Series Finals, India recorded a blistering 10-0 triumph.
“I think we should not underestimate Russia because they are also coming to qualify for the Olympics. They will also give it their best.” - India captain Manpreet Singh
The visitors made a good start to the 2019 FIH men’s Series Finals, emerging as runners up in their group, losing only to India. Russia though bowed out of the competition in the first knockout game, losing to South Africa. Now at the Olympic qualifiers, the 22nd ranked team will be reliant on forward Semen Matkovskiy and veteran midfielder Mikhail Proskuriakov.
While Russia start off as underdogs, they would know that the pressure of playing at home could cause the Indians to falter. If the visitors can nick an early goal in the tie, expect a tense encounter in Bhubaneshwar.
History in the making
The Indian eves will be playing their first-ever competitive game at the Kalinga Stadium when they take on the United States in their Olympic qualifier. Rani Rampal’s side therefore have a chance to make their Bhubaneshwar debut a momentous occasion by qualifying for their second successive Olympics.
India performed admirably in their tour against Great Britain, with young forward Lalremsiami and goalkeeper Savita Punia being the standout performers in the tour. With a good recent showing and home advantage for the qualifiers, Indian captain Rani Rampal is optimistic of her side’s chances.
“We are looking at all the positives and we know it is always an advantage when you play at home. But the USA is a strong side, and they will also be at their best when we face them here. I am sure they will be coming to win, but we have confidence in ourselves." - India captain Rani Rampal
The United States squad will come to Bhubaneshwar on the back of a mixed run of results. They won 3-1 and then lost 1-4 in the recent home series against Canada. Prior to that, they played in the 2019 Pan Am Games, where they finished in third position. The American eves topped their group in that competition, scoring at least five goals in three of their matches.
Young midfielder Erin Matson and Anna Dessoye will be the players to watch out for when the North American side travel to India. With little separating them in terms of rankings, this is an encounter that could go right down to the wire.
Where to watch?
Both the men’s as well as women’s games will be broadcast on the Star Sports Network and Hotstar on November 1-2. The women’s game will be played first at 6:00pm IST, while the men’s game is slated to begin at 8:00pm IST.
Coverage starts at 6pm on Star Sports 1 and Star Sports 1 HD.