Adequate game time against quality opposition, working on their tactical nous will be high on Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams’ agenda as they resume their respective FIH Pro League campaigns against Belgium on Saturday as pre-cursor to Commonwealth Games.
While the Indian men’s team is scheduled to play hosts Belgium (June 11 and June 12), followed by games against the Netherlands (June 18 and June 19 in Rotterdam), the women will play Belgium (June 11 and June 12), Argentina (June 18 and June 19) and the United States (June 21 and June 22).
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For the Indian women, these matches hold greater significance ahead of the FIH Women’s World Cup to be jointly hosted by Spain and the Netherlands from July 1 to 17.
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The Indian men are currently placed second in the league standings with 27 points from 12 games, a rung above Belgium, who have the same number of points but are placed below on goal difference.
So, there is hardly anything to separate between the India and Belgium.
For India, the back-to-back matches would provide them with an opportunity to reclaim their top spot in the league, which has been taken away by the Netherlands with 28 points from 10 games.
Besides making a mark in the Pro-League, the matches would also provide valuable game time for both the national teams ahead of the Birmingham Games, scheduled to be held from July 28 to August 8.
With eyes firmly set on podium finishes at this year’s Birmingham Games, both men’s and women’s hockey chief coaches Graham Reid and Janneka Schopman had already insisted that they are looking at the European leg of the league to gain better tactical insights about their respective sides.
“With little less than two months for the CWG, we will utilise this time to ensure we are best prepared for the prestigious event. The Pro League matches will give us insights into the areas that require improvement ahead of the CWG,” Indian men’s team chief coach Reid had said.
Reid’s women counterpart Schopman added: “The next few weeks are definitely going to be challenging and exciting as we play regular matches in June and July leading up to the CWG.
“Back-to-back Pro League matches will definitely give us the understanding of how the players’ bodies are reacting to recovery and being ready for a game within 24 hours.” The Indian men have fielded a strong 20-member squad for the European sojourn under the leadership of Amit Rohidas.
The team’s defence will be manned by veteran custodian PR Sreejesh and young Suraj Karkera, along with defenders Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas, Jugraj Singh and Jarmanpreet Singh.
The mid-field features experienced Tokyo Olympic bronze medal-winning skipper Manpreet Singh, Hardik Singh, Shamsher Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Akashdeep Singh and Nilakanta Sharma while the onus of scoring goals will be on Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Shilanand Lakra, Sukhjeet Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay and Abhishek.
Meanwhile, the 24-member women’s team will be led by goalkeeper Savita with defender Deep Grace Ekka as her deputy.
The team also includes Junior World Cup stars like Bichu Devi Kharibam, Ishika Chaudhary, Akshata Abaso Dhekale, Baljeet Kaur, Sangita Kumari and Deepika, while experienced striker Rani Rampal is set to return to action after her last appearance at the Tokyo Olympics. She was on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury.
The backline will also have Gurjit Kaur, Nikki Pradhan and Udita.
Nisha, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Monika, Neha, Jyoti, Navjot Kaur, Sonika, Salima Tete and Baljeet Kaur will hold the midfield together, while the strike-force will have experienced Vandana Katariya leading the charge along side Lalremsiami, Navneet Kaur, Sharmila Devi, Sangita Kumari, Deepika and Rani.
The return matches of the ties will be played on Sunday.