Having started their FIH Hockey Pro League on with impressive performances against the Netherlands, India now face a tougher challenge in top-ranked Belgium.
With four wins out of four, Belgium are currently sitting at the top of the league table with 11 points. They have defeated the likes of Australia and New Zealand, all away victories. India, though, will be banking on their 2019 tour of Belgium when they returned home winning all of their five matches. They beat hosts Belgium in three matches and triumphed against Spain in two.
“All the teams which are playing in the FIH Hockey Pro League will play in the Olympics as well. So, we have a good opportunity to find out which areas we should work on during this tournament and get better as a team before the Olympics. The youngsters also have a good chance to showcase their skills in this competition,” Manpreet Singh, captain of Indian team, said at a press conference on Friday.
India chief coach Graham Reid said they have made their preparations and the players have a clear idea of what the team expects from them. “We are ready to go. We have been training for the last two weeks. So it’s been really good preparation for the matches against Belgium. What’s important is for us is that we need to perform at our best. We will be going for the win. We are not going to focus much on our opponents but will focus on what we need to do. The players are very clear about what is required of them. We can’t change the way our opponents play, but we can change the way we play,” Reid said.
Belgium captain Thomas Briels said they have their eyes set on winning both Pro League and Olympics as well. They will be using the Pro League to try new tactics. “We want to win the FIH Hockey Pro League trophy and we have our eyes on the Olympic Games as well. We are the World No.1 side and every game counts. On the other hand, we want to develop as a team and try new tactics. We want to learn from other countries. But while doing it, we also want to win the matches. The FIH Hockey Pro League is a really nice tournament. We lost the Final last year so we are really keen to win it this year. The two games this weekend are going to be crucial,” Briels said.
Belgium coach Graham Stead said the squad is mentally fresh and hopes to maintain the winning momentum against India. “It’s been a very nice build-up to the games against India. We have played four games and learned from each of those experiences. After those four games, we took a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur to refresh mentally and so on and now we are looking forward to two top games against India, who also have been doing really well so far. I think the Indian team is on the rise at the moment. They have got a talented group of young players,” McLeod said .
The two teams will square off in a two-legged encounter Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar on February 8 and February 9.