India’s upcoming FIH Hockey Pro League away fixtures against Spain and Germany later this month have been postponed due to the international travel restrictions imposed in the wake of surging COVID-19 cases in the Asian country, the world body (FIH) informed on Tuesday. The Indian men’s hockey team was scheduled to play against Spain on May 15 and 16, followed by the two-leg tie in Germany on May 23 and 24.
“FIH, Hockey India as well as the Hockey National Associations of Germany, Spain and Great Britain since the matches initially planned in London on 8-9 May were also postponed – are currently looking at all potential options to rearrange these matches at a later date,” the International Hockey Federation (FIH) said in a statement.
“On behalf of the global hockey community, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) would like to express its support and strong sympathy to the Indian hockey community, as well as their families and friends. At this very hard time for India, a country so much linked to the history as well as the current development of hockey, our thoughts are with all Indian people,” it added.
Last month, India’s FIH Hockey Pro League matches against Great Britain, scheduled for May 8-9 in London, were postponed following the UK government’s decision to add India to the travel ‘red list’ due to the surging COVID-19 cases there. With India recording more than 3 lakh COVID-19 cases and 3,000 deaths daily for quite some time now, most of the foreign countries, including Australia, Malaysia, Germany, Singapore, New Zealand, UK etc, have suspended international flights from the country.
India is currently fourth in the FIH Pro League standings with 15 points from eight matches behind Netherlands, Germany and leaders Belgium.
Indian men’s hockey team forward Lalit Upadhyay feels that the players need to work on converting more chances into goals ahead of the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to open on July 23. In the recent Argentina tour, the Indian team scored 12 goals in four practice matches and five goals in two FIH Pro League games against the Olympic Champions, but Lalit said there is still room for improvement as nine goals came via penalty corners. “The matches against Argentina were high-scoring games and it’s never easy to convert field goals against a team like Argentina who are quite strong in their defence,” said Lalit, who scored in India’s 3-0 win against Argentina in the FIH Pro League tie.
“Over these last few months, we have really worked a lot on converting goals as well as creating penalty corners. We have also focused on how we must work our way into the circle from the 25m mark,” he added.
Lalit said the team can be a bit sharper while taking chances inside the circle.
“This is something we are focusing on during our on-going camp,” he said.
He said the team can win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics despite facing several challenges in the lead up to the Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All of us in the core group believe this (Tokyo Olympics) is our best shot at a medal and we continue to work towards that mission despite whatever challenges we may have to face in the lead up.
“Our focus will be on maintaining our fitness level, avoiding any injuries and we will be creating match scenarios in our practice sessions where we will work on different tactics,” he said.
Lalit emphasised that having a centralised training facility like the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre in Bengaluru has been a boon in these unprecedented times.
“We are truly lucky to be in a facility like SAI Centre, Bengaluru where our training goes on undisturbed, and we have the best facilities. We also have an exclusive gym now for hockey which has been very helpful,” he said.
Former India coach and captain of the hockey team that won gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Vasudevan Baskaran, believes both the men’s and women’s teams are capable of finishing on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics. “Indian teams (men’s and women’s) can finish on the podium in Tokyo. I have no doubt about it. The men’s team has been playing really well. My advice to them is to keep the confidence level up. Each player has come up the hard way to reach here. It would perhaps be the first Olympics for about seven-eight players, and I feel they shouldn’t just be happy with the ‘Olympian title (tag)’ but should aim for a medal. This is possible only when everybody in the team believes that they can be a medal-winning team and finish on the podium,” Baskaran said in a podcast series launched by Hockey India.
The Arjuna awardee, who last coached the India men’s team during the 2006 Asian Games in Doha and the World Cup in Monchengladbach (Germany), felt that the women’s team had “gained tremendous confidence since their previous outing at the 2016 Rio Olympics”.
The Rani Rampal-led team had qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by beating USA in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
“They (women’s team) must remain focused on finishing in the top-4. When I was playing at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, women’s hockey was included. Our team had missed the bronze narrowly. After seeing the current Indian women’s team, I feel they have developed a lot of confidence after (Rio) 2016. I saw them play live in Bhubaneswar when they beat USA, one of the best teams in the world. They rightfully earned the place in the Olympics,” said Baskaran.
“The team is on rise. I feel they are capable of doing well. They need to push themselves for the first-four position. I know Rani and team are capable of doing very well,” he said.
Hockey India had launched the podcast series, ‘Hockey Te Charcha’ on April 14, exactly 100 days ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
The Indian hockey team’s recent tour of Argentina and the Europe tour in February, where they played Germany and Great Britain, has provided the side a fresh perspective in training, according to young midfielder Vivek Sagar Prasad. The Manpreet Singh-led India team won both the FIH Pro Hockey League games against Olympic champions Argentina besides defeating them in two practice games. Earlier this year, the team registered a 6-1 win and a 1-1 draw against powerhouse Germany, which was followed by a win and a draw against Britain.
“These tours against world-class teams have given us a fresh perspective in our preparations for the Olympics. Based on the data received from these tours about our performance as a team and as individual players, we have been given specific tasks by chief coach Graham Reid to work on and improve. I feel, we are moving in the right direction ahead of the Olympics,” said Prasad.
Prasad said that the team’s discipline and commitment towards training all of last year, despite not playing competitive matches, is what has brought the difference in their recent successful outings.
“Last year, the way we worked as a unit has helped. We focussed on fitness, on setting up good connection between midfield and the forward-line, as well as work on keeping momentum high in the last quarter — all these things helped improve our performance.
“We created different scenarios in training and didn’t let the fact that we weren’t getting any competition due to the pandemic affect our moral or rhythm,” he said.
Having undergone mandatory quarantine after their return from Argentina, the core group will focus on their goals for the Olympics.
“We see what is happening around us and feel extremely fortunate to even be able to train under these circumstances and stay focused on our goal to do well in Tokyo,” he said.
Former international hockey umpire Anupama Punchimanda passed away due to Covid-related complications on Sunday morning in Bengaluru. She was 40. A former national-level hockey player, Anupama officiated in several prestigious international tournaments, such as the 2005 BDO Junior World Cup (Women) in Santiago, the Hero Hockey World League Round-2 (Women) in 2013 at New Delhi and the 2013 Women’s Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur, among others.
Expressing Hockey India’s (HI) condolences to the bereaved family, its President Gyanendro Ningombam said: “This (Sunday) morning we woke up to the very sad news about Anupama Punchimanda’s demise in Bengaluru.
“She was one of the first few women in India to umpire at very reputed international tournaments. We at Hockey India share the grief of her family and friends and we extend our deepest condolences to Anupama’s family members.”
One of the architects of India’s superb show against Argentina, young goalkeeper Krishan Pathak said he wants to be in top form for the Tokyo Olympics and is eyeing another superlative performance against Great Britain in the FIH Pro League games next month. The 23-year-old, who earned his 50th international cap during India’s tour of Argentina, played a big role in his side registering back-to-back wins against the reigning Olympic champions in the FIH Pro League this month.
“I am very happy to have completed fifty international caps. So much has happened in such a short space of time. I have had the opportunity to play in big tournaments and learnt a lot from my seniors,” said Pathak in a release issued by Hockey India. “The coaches have always believed in my talent. I want to continue working hard and win games for India. Reaching this milestone makes me proud,” he added. In the Argentina tour that conclude on Wednesday, India defeated the hosts in a two-leg FIH Pro League away tie.
While fellow custodian PR Sreejesh was brilliant when the visitors won the first match via a penalty shoot-out, Pathak was equally impressive during India’s 3-0 win over the hosts in the second game. “I got to learn a lot from the Argentina tour. I know I have to prove my worth as a goalkeeper every time I am playing,” said Pathak, who had earned the Player of the Match award after pulling off some great saves to maintain a clean sheet in the 2nd game.
“I feel we showed a lot of fight and character there. Over the past year, we’ve had good games against the top sides in the world and I feel that gives us the right kind of boost going into a tournament like the Olympics.” India will next play Great Britain in the FIH Pro League on May 8 and 9. “We have to be focussed on the job at hand right now. Hope our good form continues against Great Britain…,” Pathak said. With 15 points from eight games, India climbed to the fourth place in the FIH Hockey Pro League standings following their wins over Argentina. India, Argentina and Australia will play each other at the forthcoming Olympic Games, where they have been drawn in Pool A alongside Spain, New Zealand and home favourites Japan. “We have to make sure we’re ready for every challenge. The environment in the camp is good and we want to use this momentum going into a big summer,” Pathak said.
For much of his young career, Pathak has been Sreejesh’s understudy at goal and thinks the competition for places has only made him a better goalkeeper. “There’s so much one can learn from Sreejesh bhai. He’s been playing at the highest level for so many years,” he said. “I have improved as a keeper in the last four years and that is because of what I have gathered and learnt watching people like Sreejesh and others play and train on a daily basis.”
The Indian men’s hockey team skipper Manpreet Singh considers the recent success against reigning Olympic champions Argentina a big confidence-booster, but insists that the team still needs to address some grey areas as it pursues a podium finish in Tokyo.
The Indian men’s hockey team skipper Manpreet Singh considers the recent success against reigning Olympic champions Argentina a big confidence-booster, but insists that the team still needs to address some grey areas as it pursues a podium finish in Tokyo. Eight-time champions India are looking to end an over four-decade-long Olympic medal drought in Tokyo this year. India had won last of their eight Olympic gold medals in the 1980 Moscow Games before the team endured a sharp slide in its fortunes. “No doubt winning against a really strong team like Argentina in their home ground is a big confidence booster, but we shouldn’t read too much into the results. “We need to keep our heads down and remain focused on the areas that require improvement on the basis of our performance here. Our task is not over until we stand on the podium in Tokyo,” Manpreet said in a statement issued by Hockey India.
In the Argentina tour that conclude on Wednesday, India defeated the hosts in a two-leg FIH Pro League away tie, besides registering two wins, one draw and a loss in the four practice matches.
“After the matches, we feel there are a few areas we need to improve upon. While we did well as a team to come back into the game even in the dying minutes of the match, we feel we could have started better,” Manpreet said. “Also playing consistently, keeping up the pressure on the opponents in all quarters is another area we need to work on.”
India are scheduled to play Great Britain in the FIH Pro League on May 8 and 9 in London followed by a double header against Spain in Valencia on May 15 and 16. After that, the Indians will play Germany in Hamburg on May 22 and 23.
“It was great to resume the FIH Hockey Pro League with 5 points from Argentina and we would like to keep this momentum going into the matches in Europe. These matches will surely be a litmus test for us before Tokyo,” Manpreet said.
Buoyed by favourable results against Olympic champions Argentina in two practice games, India will hope to continue their impressive run when the teams meet in back-to-back FIH Pro League matches over the next two days. India had defeated the hosts 4-3 in the first practice outing and came close to upsetting them in the second match too before Lucas’s 57th-minute goal earned the home team a 4-4 draw. In both the games, India controlled the midfield and took the lead. India’s attacking prowess in the second practice game was awe-inspiring as they scored three goals in the first quarter only to allow Argentina to regroup and draw the game.
India’s chief coach Graham Reid, who has been trying to iron out this flaw, has asked his boys to tighten up their game in the third and fourth quarter, where India concede most goals.
“We allowed Argentina to come back into the game particularly in the third quarter where they scored twice. When you play a strong team like them, we need to be consistent in all the quarters,” Reid had pointed out after India’s win in the first practice outing. But the lesson wasn’t learnt and the hosts clawed back in the second game.
Even India captain Manpreet Singh has told his boys that it’s important to make use of the opportunities ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and the FIH Pro League is one great chance for the team to show cohesion.
“Having missed match practice for much of last year due to lockdowns, we have to cash in on the opportunities we get. It is good for us that we are tested against a tough opponent like Olympic champions Argentina… we could have scored even more while conceding fewer goals (in practice games). We are working hard to be more compact at the back and being more ruthless going forward,” the 28-year-old said.
This will be India’s first FIH Pro League match since they played Australia in February 2020 at Bhubaneswar. India are currently fifth in the standings with 10 points from six games.
The Indian men’s hockey team will return to top-level international competition after more than a year when it takes on Olympic champions Argentina in the first match of the two-game FIH Pro League tie here on Saturday. After being stuck at their base at the Sports Authority of India, Bengaluru centre for the entire last year during the coronavirus outbreak, the Indians will finally get to play high-intensity international matches. India played their last FIH Hockey Pro League match against Australia in February last year in Bhubaneswar. The Indians are currently fifth in the FIH Pro League standings with 10 points from six games, with two wins and as many loses and draws. World champions Belgium are atop the standings with 32 points from 13 games, followed by Germany (19 points from 8 matches), Netherlands (18 from 11) and Australia (14 from 8).
The Indians couldn’t have asked for a better timing for their return to top-flight international hockey as the upcoming Pro League matches against some tough opponents will provide them valuable match practice ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which is little more than three months away. They resumed international hockey in February this year when they embarked on a tour of Europe, where they played out two draws and registered two victories in their four games against Germany and Great Britain.
Those games were planned to help the Indian men’s hockey team prepare well for the postponed Tokyo Olympics. But it is the top-notch FIH Pro League matches that will help India to judge where they stand ahead of the Tokyo Games, beginning on July 23.
This time, the opponents are Argentina, and the matches will be played in the iconic Cernard Stadium here on Saturday and Sunday. The Indians had a good build up to the two-match tie having defeated Argentina 4-3 before drawing 4-4 in the two practice games. There were plenty of encouraging signs for India’s chief coach Graham Reid as skipper Manpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Rupinder Pal Singh were on target despite being out of action for lengthy periods. The forwards, in particular, impressed and created a lot of goalmouth opportunities. Mandeep Singh, Nilakanta Sharma and Dilpreet Singh had good outings. But, Reid stressed the importance of the defence being frugal. In both the practice games, Argentina managed to make their way back in the contest after India’s rapid start. Skipper Manpreet, however, is satisfied with performance of his side in the two practice games and feels they need to utilise every opportunity that come their way ahead of the Olympics. “Both practice matches were good. They were hard-fought games and quite intense,” Manpreet said. “Having missed match practice for much of last year, we have to cash in on the opportunities we get. It is good for us that we are tested against a tough opponent like Argentina. “In both the games, we showed a lot of fight and created loads of chances. But we could have scored even more whilst conceding fewer goals. We are working hard to be more compact at the back and being more ruthless going forward,” the 28-year-old added. Manpreet is also relishing the prospect of wearing the captain’s armband again. “Yes, last year was a difficult time for all of us. We had played very good hockey in the initial round of the FIH Pro League games against tough opponents such as Belgium, Netherlands and Australia,” he said. “We worked hard in our training camps and tried our best to recreate the intensity of a high-stake international match. That is why the upcoming matches are so important to us.” Manpreet refused to read much into Argentina’s recent slump in form.
“Argentina are a quality side and we have had some good matches against them over the years. We need to focus on our game. Like I said, each match we play is a learning experience.” Having suffered twin defeats against Germany last week, the pressure, though, will be on the hosts. The losses pushed the Argentines to the sixth place in the FIH Pro League table below India.
India men’s hockey captain Manpreet Singh said that the team has to cash in on whatever opportunities they get to play top quality opposition considering they missed match practice for much of last year.
India men’s hockey captain Manpreet Singh said that the team has to cash in on whatever opportunities they get to play top quality opposition considering they missed match practice for much of last year. India played two practice matches against Argentina in Buenos Aires this month and will be facing the Olympic champions in the FIH Pro League on April 10 and 11. “Both practice matches were good. They were hard-fought games and quite intense,” Manpreet said.
“Having missed match practice for much of last year, we have to cash in on the opportunities we get. It is good for us that we are tested against a tough opponent like Olympic Champions Argentina. In both games, we showed a lot of fight and created loads of chances. But we could have scored even more whilst conceding fewer goals. We are working hard to be more compact at the back and being more ruthless going forward,” the 28-year-old Manpreet added.
India won the first practice match 4-3 and were held to a 4-4 draw in the second game.
“We worked hard in our training camps and tried our best to recreate the intensity of a high-stakes international match. That is why the upcoming matches are so important to us. One of the areas we really focussed on during our national camp in SAI, Bengaluru, was to make more circle entries and finish chances. Converting Penalty Corner opportunities is another aspect we wanted to get better at,” said Manpreet.