Indian hockey captain Manpreet Singh Tuesday said his side would expect tough fight from all the participating countries in the FIH Men’s Series Finals which begins Thursday. Manpreet, who is leading the highest ranked team in the tournament, said the players worked on various aspects of their game ahead of the tournament.
“We are ready for the tournament and expect every team to give a good fight as all of us are eyeing the Olympics,” Manpreet said at the captains’ press conference here.
“After our Australia tour, when we assessed our performance we collectively felt that our finishing needed improvement. The past three weeks in Bhubaneswar has been very important for us in terms of getting these aspects right. We have also been working on different variations in penalty corners having three good dragflickers on our side.”
With their sights set on a top two finish which will enable them to make the next round of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualification, all eight participating teams — Mexico, USA, Russia, Uzbekistan, Poland, South Africa, Japan and India — expressed their readiness to face stiff competition at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium.
Manabu Yamashita, captain of Japan who have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics as 2018 Asian Games winners, said: “Even though we have won the Asian Games and qualified for the Olympics, we want to win this tournament to gain world ranking points. That’s very important for us as it decides which pool we will play in at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Polish who last played at the 2000 Sydney Olympics would like to return to their glory days.
The team’s goalkeeper Mateusz Popiolkowski said, “It was 19 years ago since we last played at the Olympics and definitely we want to play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But for now our aim is do well in the group stage and make it to the knockouts. That’s our immediate goal and we will try to play our best hockey.”
South Africa, who were here in Bhubaneswar for the Men’s World Cup, said they want to compensate for a poor outing in December last year when they were knocked out in the round-robin stage.
“The World Cup was not a good outing for us because as per our world ranking, we should have finished at least in No.8 – No.12 position. But there were a lot of positives from that event and the team is confident of a good show here because we are familiar with this atmosphere, the stadium and the crowd and would like to use it to our advantage,” said the team’s goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse.
Russia, who take on world No.5 India in their first match on Thursday, said it was an honour to play the home side in their first match.
“India is an excellent team and it is an absolute honour for us to play the hosts in our first match. We have watched the World Cup matches here and the crowds turn out in full support of the team. We are looking forward to experience that feeling and hope to give it our best,” said Pavel Golubev.