FIH Pro League: Indian men seek consistency, women look to maintain winning momentum against Spain

The Indian men started their FIH Pro League campaign on a rousing note, beating France 5-0 before being shocked 2-5 by the same team in the return leg, while the Indian women beat China 7-1 and 2-1 in their opening two-leg tie.

FILE PHOTO: With a rousing start to their Pro League campaign, the Indian women are confident of upsetting world No. 7 Spain in the upcoming two matches of the event.   -  PTI

Consistency will be key for the Indian men's hockey team, while the women's side would look to build on the momentum gained from a fantastic debut when the two take on Spain in their respective FIH Pro League campaign ties here on Saturday.

The Indian men, who won a bronze in the Tokyo Olympics, started their FIH Pro League campaign on a rousing note, beating France 5-0 before being shocked 2-5 by the same team in the return leg. Against South Africa, India registered identical 10-2 wins in the two matches.

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Both the ties were played in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

But the result against world no. 12 France in the second match of the two-leg tie was way below expectations for India, ranked fifth in the world.

The Indians were caught off guard by the ever-improving Frenchmen in all aspects of the game in the second match, much to the surprise of the eight-time Olympic champion.

The mixed results in opening two Pro League ties in South Africa prompted a sharp response from Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and FIH President Narinder Batra, who demanded an explanation for the setback and even met Hockey India (HI) officials and chief coach Graham Reid after their return to the country.

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The pressure would be high on the coaching staff and the players when they take on Spain and any adverse result in the upcoming matches could lead to severe consequences in a busy year that includes the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the Hangzhou Asian Games, which is also a qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The Indians tested two youngsters -- drag-flicker Sanjay and striker Abhishek -- in South Africa but only the latter could retain his place in the squad named for the Spain tie.

Striker Sukhjeet Singh is the new addition to the squad and the youngster would be striving to make his presence felt on the turf.

Against Spain, the Indians would be looking to rectify the mistakes they committed in their first two matches.

The Harmanpreet Singh-led defence needs to keep its structure intact when put under pressure. It was one aspect that was thoroughly exploited by France in the second match.

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If that was not enough, the Indians created numerous chances in the first four games but somewhere final finishing was lacking.

India also need to make better use of penalty corners, their main strength, which was lacking in the initial games.

But going by form and global stature, India would start as favourite against Spain, which lost 1-6 and 2-3 against England in its opening double-leg tie.

Indian women look to continue winning momentum

With a rousing start to their Pro League campaign, the Indian women are confident of upsetting world No. 7 Spain in the upcoming two matches of the event, which they are treating as a perfect launch-pad to prepare the side for two key tournaments this year -- the World Cup and the Hangzhou Asian Games.

Playing for the first time in the tournament, the Indian women beat China 7-1 and 2-1 in their opening two-leg tie in Muscat, Oman earlier this year.

India captain Savita Punia said that playing against top teams in the FIH Pro League will be a fair assessment of their game ahead of an important 2022, which also has the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

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"It will give us a fair idea about our strengths and weaknesses ahead of an important season," Savita had said. "The Pro League is an important tournament for the World Cup and Asian Games. We have already qualified for the World Cup but every match in the Pro League will give us an idea on the grey areas we need to work upon. The Asian Games is also there which is an Olympic qualifier."

The team, which finished a historic fourth in the Tokyo Olympics, faces a tricky opponent in world No.7 and current World Cup bronze-medallist Spain.

"Spain is a very good side. They won the bronze medal in the last World Cup. So, it is important for us to keep the momentum going. We need to give our best in every match," Savita said.

India is currently placed third in the FIH Pro League standings with six points from two games and the skipper said it will continue to play to its strengths.

"Attacking hockey and penalty corners are our strength and we will focus on that (against Spain)," said the ace goalkeeper.

Match Timings:

India Women vs Spain -  5pm

India Men vs Spain - 7.30pm

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