A rejuvenated Indian men’s hockey team will look to carry on its fine form from the home leg and maintain its supremacy at the top of the standings when it begins the Europe sojourn of the FIH Pro League against Olympic champions Belgium here on Friday.
During the European leg of the tournament, India will also take on the Netherlands and Argentina in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
India overcame a disappointing World Cup campaign earlier this year to climb to the top of the 2022-23 Pro League table with an unbeaten record against world champions Germany and mighty Australia.
The Indians secured three outright wins from the Rourkela leg, while also winning a shootout bonus point in the fourth match against the Kookaburras.
India is currently leading the table with 19 points from five outright victories from eight matches and two from shootouts.
The Harmanpreet Singh-led side will look to carry on with their winning momentum when it takes on Belgium on Friday and Great Britain on Saturday in the Lee Valley Stadium.
Hosts Great Britain will be riding on its recent success in Christchurch, New Zealand where it won 5-2 and 6-1 against New Zealand, and also beat Australia 2-1 and 3-3 (4-2 SO) to gather 19 points from eight games with four outright wins and three from shoot-outs.
Belgium, on the other hand, will look to climb up the charts from their current seventh position. It has so far played just four matches in this edition of the Pro League and have won a match each against Argentina and Germany.
The Pro League matches in Europe will also be the first real test for India’s new chief coach Craig Fulton, and it remains to seen how he fits into the high-pressure job after taking over from Australian Graham Reid, who guided the side to a historic bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
India last played Great Britain in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics, which it won 3-1.
“Though we haven’t played Great Britain regularly, we are aware of the team and the players, and what they can bring to the table, particularly while playing in front of their home crowd,” said India vice-captain Hardik Singh.
Since 2016 Rio Olympics, India has played Belgium in 19 matches of which Belgium have won nine and India eight, with two matches ending in draws.
India last played Belgium in Antwerp last year, where it lost 2-3 and won 3-3 (5-4 SO) in the previous edition of the Pro League.
Harmanpreet said can’t wait to renew the rivalry against Belgium.
“As a team, India have built a healthy rivalry against Belgium particularly over the last 5-6 years. We enjoy playing this opponent and the team is always pumped up to do well against them,” he said.
“If you look at the stats, we have always produced close encounters against Belgium. The mind frame that we are in at the moment, we are confident of yet another good show against them,” added Harmanpreet, who also happens to be the highest scorer in the League so far with 11 goals.
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