Hockey Olympic Qualifiers: Indian Men Play Russia, Women Draw USA
In a favourable draw, India's men's hockey team was on Monday pitted against lower-ranked Russia while the women's team drew a tricky USA in the final round of the Tokyo Olympics qualifiers.
The teams will compete in two back-to-back matches to make it to the Tokyo Games. The men's team will compete on November 1-2 while the women's team will take on the American side on November 2-3 in Bhubaneswar.
Eight-time Olympic champions India are ranked five in the world while the Russians are placed 22 in the FIH world rankings. India had mauled Russia 10-0 during the FIH Series Final in Bhubaneswar earlier this year.
The women American team is placed four places below India (ranked 9) it won't be a cake walk for the Rani Rampal-led side when they take the field for the FIH Olympic qualifiers.
The Indian women had played out a hard-fought 1-1 draw against USA in their last meeting at the Women's World Cup in London last year.
The Indian men's hockey team chief coach Graham Reid said they are confident of qualifying for the big-ticket event.
"We are committed to achieving the Olympic qualification and in that pursuit we continue to emphasise on improving our defence. I believe training and playing against some of the best teams of the world will give us a good platform for the qualifiers," Reid said.
The Indian women's hockey team's chief coach Sjoerd Marijne too sounded optimistic about their chances.
"The team has been performing well in the last few months. All the players are confident, very excited to take part in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers at home and they are charged up to achieve the team's goal," said Marijne.
As part of preparation for the Qualifiers, the Indian women's team will play a five-match series against England this month.
"I've always believed that the opponent we play does not matter as long as we are better prepared and that's been our focus," said Rani Rampal
"We knew the areas we had to work on to be in the best form to play two back-to-back matches and we are working towards winning them."
Among other FIH Olympic matches in the men's section, Netherlands will host Pakistan, Germany will play Russia, Great Britain are up against Malaysia, Spain have drawn France, New Zealand will play Korea and Canada have been pitted against Ireland.
In the women's section, Australia will play Russia, Germany will lock horns with Italy, Great Britain are up against Chile, Spain have drawn Korea, Ireland will face Canada and China are slated to meet Belgium.
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