India men’s hockey team has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a commanding win over Russia in the second leg of a two-match qualifier that concluded on Saturday in Bhubaneswar. While the sixth-ranked India were given a stern warning by Russia in the first leg on Friday, the hosts recovered to record a 7-1 thrashing and punch their ticket with an aggregate 11-3 win.
Coach Graham Reid hoped for a better show after a not-so-convincing 4-2 win in the first match and the team responded to his call. “That’s what we need to bring to this team and give it a big shot (in Tokyo),” Reid said after the match. I “told the players just now that we have nine months (before Olympics). Just get better and better, that’s our plan. Focus on the process, result will take care of itself.”
The 55-year-old pointed out to areas the team will be looking to improve upon as they fine-tune their preparations. “I think for me what we need to get better in is finishing. We are creating a lot of opportunities, which is great. But we need to get more returns. Also in deep defence, we have to get tighter. We are still giving away too many opportunities (to opponents),” the Australian said.
Ahead of the marquee event, India will also be playing in FIH Pro League in January, their first ever appearance at the event after opting out of the inaugural event last year. “That’s one of the things that Pro League does, that it sets up competition schedule between now and Olympics. It’s great that we have a squad of 33, which may have to become 32. Pro League is a big opportunity, to work out for the Olympics and there are a lot of games during that period. If all of them play all those games, they will be in their best shape to play at the Olympics,” Reid said.
For Reid, who won a silver as a player at the 1992 Barcelona Games, the latest assignment with the Indian team holds a personal significance too. As a coach of Australia, he returned medal-less from the Rio Games in 2016 as the Kookaburras exited the competition in the quarter-finals. “Obviously, I have an unfinished business. You always dream of an Olympics podium finish. I was lucky to win one as a player and those memories are things you hold on to,” said Reid.