While the Indian men’s hockey team awaits a tough challenge in Russia at the FIH Olympic Qualifiers to be held in Odisha at the Kalinga Stadium on 1 and 2 November 2019, they will be keeping a close eye on the other qualifying matches which begin this weekend.

While neighbours Pakistan face 2018 Men’s World Cup runners-up the Netherlands on 26 and 27th October 2019 in Amsterdam, Spain will play against France in Valencia on 25 and 26th October 2019.

Meanwhile, India’s bugbear from 2016 Rio Olympics Canada too will be vying for an Olympic berth when they take on Ireland at home in West Vancouver on 26 and 27 October 2017.

“It’s going to be a great weekend of hockey with Pakistan taking on the Netherlands and Spain taking on France. Canada, who gave us the woes back in Rio Olympics will also be playing for an Olympic spot when they take on Ireland. Anything can happen in such crunch games and all teams will come prepared to win a berth for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We will be watching these matches together as a team activity and I don’t think we can predict a clear winner simply because these are Olympic Qualifiers and any team can create an upset. We have seen such results in the past,” stated Sunil who has been credited with the responsibility of Vice captain for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers.

The Indian team during their recent tour to Belgium underwent joint-training sessions with the Dutch National team which Sunil, India’s most experienced striker, described as ‘high intensity training’. “We got to see the level of intensity they (the Netherlands) brought to their training sessions. We monitored their GPS tracking to see the kind of energy they bring into every drill and every interval. They looked in good nick. One can never take their opponents lightly especially when an Olympic Qualification is at stake and a first-hand glimpse of the Netherlands training ahead of their Qualifier against Pakistan showed that they were not taking their opponents lightly. I am sure the Qualifying matches this weekend is going to be top-notch. We saw what France is capable of when they beat Olympic Champions Argentina in the Men’s World Cup last year and the result eventually put Spain out of the knockout stage. They are a very capable team and are developing fast into a strong hockey playing nation,” he explained.

Sunil further added that while the Indian team is going through final preparations in Bhubaneswar, watching these matches will give them an understanding of what to expect in the upcoming season when India plays the FIH Hockey Pro League starting in January. “The Netherlands is the first team we play in the FIH Hockey Pro League (on 18 and 19 January 2020). They are a team we have always followed closely and these Qualifying matches will give us an understanding about their progress this year and what we can expect from them in January when the season starts. Although our focus right now is the Olympic Qualifier against Russia, it is always good to have an idea of what we need to be prepared for in the forthcoming season,” he said.