Graham Reid: ‘We must guard against complacency’

The head coach cautions the Indian team against underestimating Russia for the Olympic Qualifiers.

Graham Reid (right) and Manpreet Singh interact at SAI in Bengaluru on Tuesday. Photo: Ashwin Achal

The Indian men’s hockey team had huddled up in a room at the SAI complex here on Monday to watch the telecast of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers draw, held at Lausanne (Switzerland).

The players were a relieved lot when it was announced that they would face World No. 22 Russia, the weakest team in Pot 1. The two others teams in Pot 1 — Pakistan (World No. 17) and Austria (World No. 20) — could have posed sterner tests. Russia is the preferred opponent, considering that India (World No. 5) had whipped Russia 10-0 in the FIH Series Final in Bhubaneswar earlier this year.

‘Focussed purely on Russia’

But any sense of complacency vanished when coach Graham Reid got up to address the room. “Coach Reid said that we must not underestimate any team. He said that Russia will be just as desperate to qualify for the Olympics as we are, so we must work our socks off to defeat them. So now we are focussed purely on Russia — we will watch their match videos and be thorough with our preparation,” regular skipper Manpreet Singh said here on Tuesday.

The two teams face other in a two-legged tie, at Bhubaneswar, on November 1 and 2. The winner will seal a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics main draw.

Before this crucial tie, the Indian team will tour Belgium; it is sure to serve as great preparation. “Belgium (World No. 2) is an all-round unit — good in both attack and defence. It will be a very useful tour for us to assess our strengths and weaknesses,” Manpreet said.

‘Treat Russia with respect’

Reid, meanwhile, stressed that the 10-0 victory over Russia does not imply that there is a big gulf in quality between the two sides. “We played Russia in Bhubaneswar in April, when it was very hot. The Russians struggled to cope with the heat; they won’t have that problem when we meet in November. This is the point I made to the team yesterday. We must guard against complacency. I really hate complacency. If I see any complacency in the run up to the qualifier, I will stomp it out. We must focus on preparing as best we can, and treat Russia with respect,” Reid said.

There was a chance that India could have faced arch-rival Pakistan, in what could have been an exciting, high-stakes Olympic Qualifiers affair. Reid, for one, is pleased to have avoided a high-profile clash. “Playing against Pakistan could have been very exciting, but I think it (the hype and anticipation) could have also been distracting. The last thing you want in an Olympic qualifier is distractions,” Reid said.