The second of the three FIH Series Finals is going to begin from June 6 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar and eight nations, including hosts India, will take part in this tournament. India is the top-ranked team among all others and this is the first step for them towards the 2020 Olympics.
Why is the FIH Series Finals important for India?
The three FIH Series Finals tournaments for men and three four women are being held this year for the national teams who are not playing in the FIH Pro League. After the International Hockey Federation (FIH) scrapped the Hockey World League Final, both FIH Pro League and FIH Series are the qualifying tournaments for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers which are scheduled to be played later this year and will feature 14 teams.
As India failed to bag a gold medal at the Jakarta Asian Games last year and couldn’t get a direct qualification into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they will want to play in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers as one of the better-placed team and for that, they have to finish in top two of the upcoming eight-team event. Finishing at the first or second position at the FIH Series Finals will guarantee India entry for the Olympic Qualifiers which will involve 13 other teams.
Whom will India play in the tournament?
Apart from India, Poland, Russia, Uzbekistan, Mexico, Japan, South Africa and the USA are the seven other teams taking part in the tournament. These eight teams are divided into two groups with India in Group A alongside Russia, Poland and Uzbekistan. Finishing at the top of the group will take India directly into the semis while finishing second or third will mean that they play the cross-overs to make it to the semis.
In the group stage, India’s first match will be against Russia (rank 22) on the opening evening of the tournament on Thursday while the very next day they will face Poland who are placed one-place better as compared to that of Russia on the FIH Rankings. India will face Uzbekistan (ranked 43) in the last game of the group stage on June 10.
Japan and South Africa are the two competitive teams, with due respect to Mexico and USA, in the other group. South Africa are ranked 16 while the Asian Games gold-medallists Japan are at the 18th position on the international rankings. USA and Mexico are on 25 and 39 respectively. If there are no upsets in the tournament, India will most probably face South Africa or Japan from the other group in the later stages of the competition.
Who will be the players to watch out for in the tournament?
India have picked up an 18-man team for the tournament with Manpreet Singh as the captain and Birendra Lakra as his deputy. The most important for the Indian side under the guidance of Graham Reid is the comeback of Ramandeep Singh who had missed out on a lot of important games due to injury. Forward Ramandeep last played in the Champions Trophy in June 2018 where he sustained a threatening knee injury during a game against arch-rivals Pakistan.
The 26-year-old striker from Punjab will be the player to watch out for in the tournament. As he is fully fit and gearing up to prove a point on the turf. His performance will also matter for the Indian forward line-up which has players like Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, Gursahibjit Singh and Simranjeet Singh. The inclusion of Ramandeep adds more experience to the forward line and it his fitness standards will remain to be seen considering India’s qualifying matches for the Tokyo Olympics.
What are India’s chances in the tournament?
India is the highest-ranked team in the tournament and has got a very good chance of finishing as the winners of the tournament on June 15. With the kind of players the Indian team has git, they will try to leave behind the poor performance in Australia and come out victorious in the FIH Series Finals. India can make it directly to the semi-finals to be played on June 14 if they finish the group stage at the top-most place and will not have to play in the cross-over games on June 12.
What will be the challenges for India?
The FIH Series Finals will be the first major event for Graham Reid since he took over as the head coach of the Indian team in the month of April. India had travelled to Australia prior to the upcoming tournament and were thrashed badly by the Kangaroos in the two-match bilateral test series. India is not in a great form since their quarter-final exit at the World Cup in December. The Manpreet Singh-led team had lost to South Korea in shootout in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final earlier this year and will want to put up a convincing performance in the upcoming event.
Teams causing upsets will be the major threat for the Indian team and one such in the semi-final stage or one bad day at the office against either one among South Africa and Japan will matter a lot for the Indian team and Manpreet and co. can’t be complacent despite going into the tournament as clear favourites.
Where the tournament is being held?
The second of the three FIH Series Finals will be played at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar. This is the same venue which hosted the FIH Men’s World Cup in December last year. The stadium has also hosted the Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy, Hockey World League Final and Hockey India League matches in the past.
Goalkeepers:PR Sreejesh, Krishan B Pathak
Midfielders: Manpreet Singh (C), Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma
Forwards: Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Gursahibjit Singh, Simranjit Singh
June 6: India vs Russia at 19:00 IST
June 7: India vs Poland at 19:00 IST
June 10: India vs Uzbekistan at 19:00 IST
June 12: Cross-over matches
June 15:Third position play-off at 17:00 IST
Final at 19:15 IST
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