India men’s hockey team has secured its place in the upcoming Olympic Qualifiers (to be held in October or November) by finishing as the winner of the FIH Hockey Series Finals by beating South Africa 5-1 in the final at the Kalinga Stadium on Saturday.
Foreign teams have struggled under the extreme heat in Bhubaneswar, but India’s head coach Graham Reid felt it will help the team as he expects similar conditions in the upcoming tour of Japan (August 17-21) and at the summer Olympics.
“The two biggest takeaways for me from this tournament is our performances in the semifinal and final. It was pleasing to see the team come back in the previous game (against Japan) and today (in the final) we were good in parts. It has been a good practice for us under this heat, which is something we are expecting will be similar in Tokyo,” he said.
Reid also felt that the young players in the team have benefited from playing in front of huge crowds at the Kalinga Stadium while praising his penalty corner specialists as Varun Kumar and Harmanpreet Singh finished joint top goalscorers of the tournament with six goals.
“I think it is one of our takeaways from the tournament. The opportunity (for younger players) to play in the semifinal and the final in front of such huge crowds is something which will prepare them for high-pressure situations. All our three (drag)flickers are also doing really well and they have made use of the scoring opportunities,” the Australian said.
India has managed to get maximum points from the tournament, which will crucial be for world number 5 as the top seven teams will host the Olympic Qualifiers matches.
“We are looking forward to the updated rankings as it will be important for the qualifiers. We will also assess our performances here and move forward with more improvements,” Indian captain Manpreet Singh.
Indian forward Ramandeep Singh, who has been a goal poacher for the majority of his career, has turned the provider for the forwardline following his return to the team after nine months. The veteran, who has represented India in 129 matches, is happy in his new role.
“I have always been good at connecting the play in and around the circle and it is good see that I can provide passes to Simran(jeet) and Akashdeep to score the goals. There will be more in the upcoming months as we will get used to each others’ movements and link up better,” he said.
For South Africa’s coach Garreth Ewing, his players were emotionally drained after the tough 2-1 semifinal victory against USA which secured it a place in the Olympics Qualifiers.
“After yesterday’s game we did not have much recovery time. I feel that we were physically and emotionally drained after getting qualified,” he said.
Ewing is focused on the African Championships in August as winning the continental championship will give South Africa an automatic spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I think it was a game for us to measure ourselves against a team like India. We let ourselves down in the opening minutes, but it is really important for us to understand the level we need to be, which we are not at right now. But we need to win the African Championship, which will get us an automatic qualification (for the Olympics) and then we will see what happens next,” he said.
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