The second edition of the FIH Pro League is all set to start on January 11 next year with China playing the Netherlands in the women’s section in the first match while the Netherlands travel down to India to play the first game in the men’s section on January 18. There are nine teams each in both men’s and women’s sections this time. The only change is India in men’s section coming in for Pakistan. Pakistan had withdrawn from the FIH Pro League even before the actual competition had started last year.
The only representative from Asia in the women’s section, like last year, will be China.
In all 144 matches will be played during the league between January 11 and June 28 next year. Another change in the FIH Pro League is a slight modification in the format. Instead of the home and away games, the emphasis this time is on home matches. A team that is playing host this year will play as a visiting team the subsequent year. For example, if India is playing host to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Australia in 2020, it will play its FIH Pro League games in 2021 by visiting them.
Most of the FIH Pro League games are scheduled for weekends. Since India will play host to four of nine participating teams, the exact venues are likely to be announced by Hockey India soon. Bhubaneshwar, Lucknow, and Raipur are the foremost choices as all major FIH hosted by India during the past few years were organized in one of these new hockey centers. North India, including Delhi, Chandigarh or Jalandhar, is not on the list of probable venues for FIH Pro League.
The FIH Pro League 2020 has a special significance as its being organized in the Olympic year. Going by performance and expected draw of the Olympic Qualifiers to be held in October and November this year, all these teams are expected to make it to 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Two of them – Belgium and Argentina have already booked their berths as Continental champions. Two other teams – the host Japan and African champion, South Africa, too, have confirmed their berths. Indian captain Manpreet Singh expressed his team’s excitement following the announcement of the schedule for the second edition of FIH Pro League.
India will take on the Netherlands in its opening match on January 18 on home turf. The weekend matches on 18 and 19 January against the Dutch team will be followed by matches against the World Champions Belgium on February 8 and 9. The home matches will also see India play Australia on February 22 and 23 before the Indian team leaves for away games in Germany as well as Great Britain on April 25 and 26 and May 2 and 3, respectively. India will return to play on home soil on May 23 and 24 against New Zealand following which the team will leave for Argentina to play matches on June 5 and 6. The Indian team will play its last leg of the Pro League round-robin matches in Spain on June 13 and 14.
“We are really excited to begin our first FIH Pro League campaign on home soil in January. The league provides a great opportunity to play against top teams in the world and we expect all the matches to be challenging. I am sure playing continuous top-level matches will be beneficial in the all-important Olympic year and this could also mean good match exposure for all players in the core group,” said Manpreet Singh on the sidelines of the on-going National Coaching Camp in SAI, Bengaluru.
India will play a total of eight home games with six matches in January and February and two matches in May. Manpreet believes this will provide ample opportunity for Indian fans to catch their favorite players in action against the best hockey-playing nations in the world. “With India playing the home leg against top teams like the Netherlands, Belgium, and Australia, I am sure hockey fans in India will get to watch the very best of hockey. India has always enjoyed playing these teams on home soil and what better way to start our campaign than here at home,” stated Manpreet. “We hope the matches will recreate an electrifying atmosphere similar to World Cup in Bhubaneswar and the visiting teams too can enjoy playing here,” he further added.
Meanwhile, Indian Chief Coach Graham Reid emphasized the importance of regular competition against top teams ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. He said, “We are very excited about the prospects of playing in the Pro League next year. Having experienced it first-hand, I know how important it is to have regular competition. To play against the best teams in the world and test the depth of this talented young squad will be ideal preparation for the Tokyo Olympics should we qualify in November.”