Olympic qualifiers: India starts favorites against Russia
BHUBANESWAR: It's always complicated when you play with a weaker team. Most of the time they expose their defects. A good example is the final of the FIH men's series held at Kalinga Stadium here in June. India received big tips to win the competition even before arriving in the city. Despite the title and 10-0 victories over Uzbekistan and Russia, the cracks in the front line, especially their inability to finish within the attack circle, were exposed.
On Friday and Saturday, when they play with Russia to seal a place at the Tokyo Olympics, Manpreet Singh&Co will start favorites, but the contest will focus on both its growth as a team and the Tokyo ticket.
Even for an optimist, it's hard to imagine a David and Goliath contest here.
On the one hand, Russia's first Olympic hope came on about seven weeks ago when they replaced Egypt, which decided to withdraw from the qualifiers. The Russians have not yet reached the World Cup and are far from being a force to take into account in the European circuit. Apart from this, the difference in experience between the two teams is evident. For example, the combined matches played by four players from India: Manpreet, his substitute SV Sunil, PR Sreejesh and Rupinder Pal Singh it's 952 and the games played by the 18-member visiting team is 648.
While India thrives in history, one of Russia's best clubs, HC Dinamo Elektrostal, which is home to a majority in the team, was established in 1994. The disparity was not lost on the Russian head coach. Vladimir Konkin , who said: India is one of the strongest international teams in the world. They are eight times Olympic champions, so now we are far behind them. But we expect better results.
One of the highlights of the two-leg qualifier will be the return of SV Sunil, Lalit Upadhyay and Rupinder Pal Singh for a major FIH event. Add to this the experience of PR Sreejesh, Birendra Lakra and Manpreet, it is a combination that the Russians will find too hot to handle. For the coach of India, Graham Reid, the competition will give a clear idea of the position of senior professionals.
The experience of Sunil, Lalit, Rupinder, Sreejesh and Lakra will make a difference. Sunil takes the strikers, similarly Rupinder does the job in defense, Manpreet said.
The return of high-level professionals has also meant that they influence their experience. According to Manpreet, Sunil spoke with the team about broken dreams and cited the example of the failure to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
We have always said that you should never underestimate the opponent. Sunil gave the example of the team's failure to qualify in 2008. Our mentality should only be to win. The elders carry the players. They tell young people that they never think it will be easy, said Manpreet, who has been the heart of the Indian midfield.
While it seems that India has an easy road to Tokyo, the Russians promise not to give up without fighting. I promise you that we came to fight and it would be a good battle, Konkin said.