Indian men's hockey team moves up in rankings, pip Australia to become world no.4
In the most recent FIH rankings, the Indian men's hockey team moved up two spots to fourth as a result of its exceptional back-to-back victories over world champions Germany and Australia in the Pro League games in Rourkela. India significantly overtook Australia, who fell one spot to fifth.
After losing back-to-back games to India, Germany, who had held the top slot after winning the World Cup in Odisha in January, fell two spots to third place.
At the Birsa Munda Stadium, the largest all-seater facility in the world, India won all four of their FIH Pro League games, including two each against Germany and Australia.
Less than two months have passed since India's shocking last-round elimination from the World Cup, which was staged here and in Bhubaneswar in January. India defeated Germany in both of the double-leg matches, 3-2 and 6-3, while defeating Australia in the first and second games, 5-4 and 4-3 in the penalty shootout (after 2-2 in regulation time).
Along with moving India to the top of the FIH Pro League points standings, the team led by Harmanpreet Singh also moved up two spots in the most recent FIH rankings, from sixth to fourth.
According to the most recent rankings, the World Cup bronze medalist Netherlands is in first place, followed by Belgium in second.
"These things (world ranking) don't matter to us so much. We don't keep this in mind when we play. Our only priority was to convert our chances and keep the pressure on the opponent," India captain Harmanpreet Singh said.
In the ongoing FIH Pro League, where Harmanpreet currently holds the league's goal-scoring lead with 11 goals, ahead of Alexander Hendrickx of Belgium, "some of the youngsters who got an opportunity to show their talent also stood up to the occasion and did very well for themselves as well as the team," the player said (six goals).
The 21,000-seat Birsa Munda Stadium has proven to be a stronghold for the Indian team, which has gone 8 games without losing. The Indian squad has drawn one and won seven games there.
India participated in four World Cup matches there, winning three and drawing one. They played two group stage matches and two classification stage matches. India drew 0-0 with England in the second group game after defeating Spain 2-0 in the opening contest.
India eliminated itself from the championship by losing to New Zealand on penalties in the crossover game after defeating Wales 4-2 in the final group game at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
The Indian team then triumphed in two classification games at the Birsa Munda Stadium to place joint-ninth overall.
"We are happy to keep our record intact here in Rourkela. We haven't lost a single match here in this magnificent stadium. The Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium is very lucky for us," Harmanpreet said.
"When you have so much love and encouragement from fans, we want to go out there and win every single game," said the ace drag-flicker who scored twice in India's dramatic shootout triumph against Australia on Wednesday.
Over half of Australia's starting lineup in the FIH Pro League was made up of rookie players who did not make the World Cup roster. Additionally, eight members of India's World Cup squad—including veteran players like Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, and Nilakanta Sharma—were either benched or given rest.
Striker Selvam Karthi, who is now the fourth-highest goal scorer in the FIH Pro League, was one of the new players who stood out.
Others, including World Cup team members Sukhjeet Singh and Abhishek, also performed well. "There are many positive lessons for us from this excursion here in Rourkela that will hold us in good favour as we prepare for the forthcoming Asian Games," added Harmanpreet, whose drag-flick faltered during India's World Cup campaign.