Bhubaneswar, Oct 24 (IANS) While the Indian men’s hockey team eagerly await their challenge against Russia in the FIH Olympic qualifiers to be held at the Kalinga Stadium here on November 1 and 2, the team will keep a close eye on the qualifying matches which begin this weekend. Nemesis Pakistan will take on 2018 men’s World Cup runners-up the Netherlands on October 26 and 27 in Amsterdam and Spain will play against France in Valencia on October 25 and 26.
India’s bugbear from the 2016 Rio Olympics Canada too will be vying for an Olympic berth when they take on Ireland at home in West Vancouver on 26 and 27 November 2019.
“It’s going to be a great weekend of hockey with Pakistan taking on the Netherlands and Spain taking on France. Canada, who gave us the woes back in Rio Olympics will also be playing for an Olympic spot when they take on Ireland. Anything can happen in such crunch games and all teams will come prepared to win a berth for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” stated SV Sunil, India’s vice-captain, who has been entrusted with the responsibility of Vice captain for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers
“We will be watching these matches together as a team activity and I don’t think we can predict a clear winner simply because these are Olympic Qualifiers and any team can create an upset. We have seen such results in the past,” he added.
The Indian team during their recent tour to Belgium underwent joint training sessions with the Dutch national team which SV Sunil, India’s most experienced striker, described as ‘high intensity training’.
“We got to see the level of intensity they (the Netherlands) brought to their training sessions. We monitored their GPS tracking to see the kind of energy they bring into every drill and every interval. They looked in good nick. One can never take their opponents lightly especially when an Olympic Qualification is at stake and a first-hand glimpse of the Netherlands training ahead of their Qualifier against Pakistan showed that they were not taking their opponents lightly.
“I am sure the Qualifying matches this weekend are going to be top-notch. We saw what France is capable of when they beat Olympic Champions Argentina in the Men’s World Cup last year and the result eventually put Spain out of the knockout stage. They are a very capable team and are developing fast into a strong hockey playing nation,” he said.
Sunil added that while the Indian team is going through final preparations in Bhubaneswar, watching these matches will give them an understanding of what to expect in the upcoming season when India plays the FIH Hockey Pro League starting in January.