India returns to top level hockey with Argentina tie in FIH Pro League

After being stuck at SAI, Bengaluru, for most of 2020 amid COVID-19, India will finally play high-intensity FIH Pro League games versus Argentina beginning this Saturday.

India is part of the FIH Pro League.

The Indian Hockey team, led by captain Manpreet Singh, played its last FIH Pro League match against Australia in February 2020 in Bhubaneswar, Odisha (File Photo).   -  biswaranjan rout

The Indian men's hockey team will return to top-level international competition after more than a year when it takes on Olympic champion Argentina in the first match of the two-game FIH Pro League Hockey tie on Saturday.

After being stuck at their base at the Sports Authority of India, Bengaluru centre, for the entire last year during the coronavirus outbreak, the Indians will finally get to play high-intensity international matches.

India played its last Pro League match against Australia in February 2020 in Bhubaneswar. The Indians are currently fifth in the FIH Pro League standings with 10 points from six games, with two wins and as many loses and draws.

World champion Belgium is atop the standings with 32 points from 13 games, followed by the Germans (19 points from 8 matches), Netherlands (18 from 11) and Australia (14 from 8).

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India resumed international hockey in February this year when it embarked on a tour of Europe, where it played out two draws and registered two victories in its four games against the German Hockey team and Great Britain.

Those games were planned to help the Indian men's hockey team prepare well for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic spectacle. But it is the top-notch FIH Pro League matches that will help India to judge where it stands ahead of the postponed 2020 Tokyo Games, beginning on July 23.

This time, the opponent is Argentina, and the matches will be played at the iconic Cernard Stadium in Buenos Aires on Saturday and Sunday. The Indians had a good build up to the two-match tie having defeated Argentina 4-3 before drawing 4-4 in the two practice games.

There were plenty of encouraging signs for India's chief coach Graham Reid as skipper Manpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Rupinder Pal Singh were on target despite being out of action for lengthy periods.

The forwards, in particular, impressed and created a lot of goalmouth opportunities. Mandeep Singh, Nilakanta Sharma and Dilpreet Singh had good outings. But Reid stressed the importance of the defence being frugal. In both the practice games, Argentina managed to make their way back into the contest after India's rapid start.

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Skipper Manpreet, however, is satisfied with performance of his side in the two practice games and feels it needs to utilise every opportunity that comes its way ahead of the Olympics.

"Both practice matches were good. They were hard-fought games and quite intense. Having missed match practice for much of last year, we have to cash in on the opportunities we get. It is good for us that we are tested against a tough opponent like Argentina," Manpreet said.

"In both the games, we showed a lot of fight and created loads of chances. But we could have scored even more whilst conceding fewer goals. We are working hard to be more compact at the back and being more ruthless going forward," the 28-year-old added.

"Argentina are a quality side and we have had some good matches against them over the years. We need to focus on our game. Like I said, each match we play is a learning experience."

Having suffered twin defeats against Germany last week, the pressure, though, will be on the host. The losses pushed the Argentines to the sixth place in the Pro League table below India.

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