Graham Reid: Sreejesh's contagious confidence will help Olympic debutants

PR Sreejesh, who was part of the Indian hockey team during both the Rio Olympics and London Games, would be aiming to inspire the side once again in Tokyo next month.

"PR Sreejesh is one of the best goalkeepers in the world in shootouts. And he brings with him a confidence that is contagious," India head coach Graham Reid (in pic) said.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Heading into what is set to be his last Olympics, Indian men's hockey team's inspirational goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh's "contagious confidence" will be helpful for the side's 10 newcomers, head coach Graham Reid said on Friday.

The 36-year-old, who made his Olympic debut in London 2012 and led at Rio five years ago when they made a quarterfinal exit losing to Belgium, would be aiming to inspire the side once again in Tokyo next month.

"He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world in shootouts. And he brings with him a confidence that is contagious," Reid said in a virtual media interaction from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) camp in Bengaluru.

"What he does bring to the team is a uniqueness. Sometimes, it's hard to explain but he certainly brings the group up if things aren't going particularly well, he has that experience. The whole world knows him."

"We constantly are talking with him about being able to communicate in the best manner possible and that's what he does," the Aussie said in his glowing praise for Sreejesh.

Sreejesh is the lone goalkeeper in a 16-member squad with Krishan Pathak in reserves, but Reid said he's also keeping two more guys ready in case of an injury.

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"We are now training a couple of guys. I really do not want to let you know who I'm training for that but we have had them in the last week or so, in their pads. Heaven forbid that something like that needs to happen, we will also be taking a separate set of goalkeeping pads for them if that was to happen."

"But it would need to be a very, very serious injury for someone like Sreejesh for not to finish out a game in the goals. We have to have those what-if scenarios in place, which we do."

The Indian team will have 10 members, who will make their Olympic debuts. Only five players from the Rio Olympics have been retained, with Sreejesh and captain Manpreet Singh playing their third Olympics.

Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh and Surender Kumar are the other three and there are some surprising omissions in S. V. Sunil, Akashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh.

Birendra Lakra, who missed Rio due to a knee injury and surgery, is making a comeback. Reid said the extra one year for the Olympics meant that many more youngsters came through.

"If you look at the group as a whole, a lot of them have played in the Junior World Cup and have won that. We have some very good junior players that have come through. They have progressed very well in the last 24 months."

India will open its Olympic campaign against New Zealand on July 24. The team is placed in Pool A along with Olympic champion Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and host Japan.

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