Harpal Singh Bedi/ New Delhi
There was sense of relief among the fans and officials as news came that the Indian men’s hockey team will face Russia in the Olympic qualifiers.
India will have a relatively easier tie as they face World No. 22 Russia for the two-legged clash for a berth to Tokyo 2020. The women, however were not that lucky .They will face a tricky opponent in USA.
The draw to decide the seven pairs for the remaining Olympic slots was held at the FIH headquarters in Lausanne with the top-ranked teams getting to host the ties.
India would be hosting both the men’s and women’s ties at Bhubaneswar with the matches being played back-to-back on November 1 and 2.
India has played Russia only twice in the past 12 years, the last being a 10-0 victory at the FIH Series Finals earlier this year at the same venue. Before that the teams had played each other at the 2008 Olympic qualifiers, when India missed out on an Olympic berth for the first time..
“We cannot take any team lightly. There is no room for complacency because we have seen what Russia is capable of. ” said captain Manpreet Singh after the draw was announced
“Weather conditions in June were challenging for them but that may not be the case this time. I am sure they will come well prepared so it is important to remain focused and play our best,”
The Indians would prep for the clash with a Europe tour against World No. 2 Belgium later this month.
For the women,However it is going to be rough and tough.. Ranked 9th, India would take on former bronze medallist and World No. 13 USA. The two played out a close 1-1 draw at the World Cup last year, a result that helped India edge through to the knockout stage. However, as per FIH database India has had just one win against USA in its 10 previous meetings. India would travel for a five-match series against England ahead of the tie.
“The team has been performing well in the last few months. “ We have gained momentum at the right time, the players are confident and charged up to achieve the team’s goal,” coach Sjoerd Marijne was quoted as saying,