Come 2020 and tougher challenges crop up for Indian men on international horizon. It is a year of Olympics and also the year for the Asian Champions Trophy. Besides, India will be making debut in FIH Pro League with home games against the Netherlands on January 18 and 19. India is also scheduled to play in Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament at Ipoh in April.
True, the Indian men’s hockey was quick to put behind the disappointment of the 2018 Men’s World Cup and focused on its prestigious target of making it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Had India done a little better in the 2018 Asian Games, it could have gained direct entry to the Olympics. But failure at semi-finals had put the team under pressure to qualify. The qualification for 2020 Tokyo Olympics was accomplished with handsome wins against Russia at Bhubaneshwar. Since then the core group which reported to National Coaching Camp in Bhubaneswar has set its sight on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I think the year 2019 was full of positives. Our single most important target was to make the Olympic qualification and in that pursuit we improved collectively as a team and performed consistently. I think retaining our World Ranking (No.5) was also a morale boost,” says skipper of Indian team, Manpreet Singh, while looking back at 2019.
Manpreet also believes that the increase in pool of players who are of international standards was also another big positive for the team in 2019. “We saw quite a few youngsters play their first international match. It is good to have a strong pool of players who have the capabilities of handling the pressure at international level. This is an advantage especially now when we play back-to-back FIH Hockey Pro League matches,” he added.
Highlighting the team’s goal for this year, Manpreet said: “Our immediate target is to do well in the FIH Hockey Pro League. We had a meeting yesterday where we gave our feedback to the Chief Coach and we discussed what we need to do if we intend to win against teams like the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia whom we play against in January and February.”
He further added, “We have nine months to prepare for the Olympics and the plan is to get better and better each day, in each session we train. Under Chief Coach Graham Reid there is already a solid process in place and we just need to keep at it and I am sure the result will follow. The team strongly believes we have a good shot at finishing Top 4 at the Tokyo Olympics and once we make the Semi Final, it can be anybody’s game there on wards.”
Having won back-to-back Asian Champions Trophy in 2016 and 2018, the team will aim to claim the title third time in a row when the bi-annual tournament returns in 2020. “It is definitely on our mind to defend the Asian Champions Trophy title. It will be sweet to make it a hat-trick but we would like to take it step-by-step, tournament-by-tournament,” an optimistic Manpreet said.