India men’s hockey team was expected to win their first leg of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers against Russia at the Kalinga Stadium (Bhubaneswar) but were presented with a stern challenge from their much lower ranked opponents. In a rusty show, India did beat Russia 4-2 but not before being given a scare which will force them to review their preparations for the second leg to be held today at the same venue.
Coach Graham Reid accepted his disappointment at the performance but did praise Russia who played with ‘no pressure’, without being bogged down by their opponents who are eight-time Olympic champions.
“I am not surprised with the Russian performance,” Reid said after the match. “They came out and played very well. Full credit to them. The world rankings systems hardly matters. It looks like they are 22 in the world but they are a really good team. That’s what I have been telling all along. They had no pressure.”
Reid said he has had a word with the players regarding the way they played on Friday and is hopeful of a convincing victory come Saturday. The winner of the two legs will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics next year.
“I was disappointed with the way our boys played today. I have spoken to them about that. Hopefully, there will be a reaction tomorrow. We can show everyone tomorrow how well we can play,” he said.
Russia coach Vladimir Konkin did rue missed opportunities but says the contest is still on, promising another strong show. “We are still in the game. We will chase the Indian team, we promise you,” Konkin said. “The reason why we played so good is that our guys did exactly what our coaching staff told them to do. That’s why we had some good result. Actually we had a lot of opportunities but we missed them.”