For a journey that began on February 8, it all comes down to these next two matches in the FIH Pro League for the Indian men’s team. India is currently third in the standings, just two points adrift of leaders Belgium and second-placed Netherlands – who have played two games fewer than the other top three teams.
Mathematically, there’s a slim chance for the Indians to somehow win the title. But when they face the Dutch for the double-header in Rotterdam this weekend, the visitors are looking to give themselves every chance of taking the lead.
“We don’t have much options. There’s not much difference between us, Netherlands, Belgium. It’ll be good to win these next two matches, but Netherlands still has four matches, Belgium still has two matches, they’re playing England,” said vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh during a pre-match press conference.
“Our aim will to be do well in these two matches, win them. Then it depends on what happens with the other teams. We can only win our matches.”
Winning the title this season is not in their hands, but this will be the best result in the tournament as far as the Indians are concerned. They did not compete in the inaugural edition, then finished fourth in the 2020-21 season. This year though, they’ve been in a decent run of form.
Starting from that 5-0 win over France in South Africa, the first game of the campaign, only Belgium, Spain and the French have managed to pick up an outright win over the Indians. It’s a team that has used these Pro League matches as a platform to add new skills to their repertoire.
“We’ve gotten to learn something or the other from every match we’ve played. Like how to manage if we’re down to 10 men when a player is shown a card. Or what structure do we keep if we have a man advantage. How should we move the ball, what should be the positioning with the ball, without it. These are small things but they’re quite effective,” Harmanpreet added.
“We’ve learnt a lot through these matches.”
And this is something that is going to help the team in the long run. The Pro League is not exactly the most coveted crown in the sport, but does provide a great deal of exposure to help teams develop.
The back-to-back matches on consecutive days is something unique to the tournament. It’s a format that provide teams an opportunity to learn from the experiences in the first match, and then put the new knowledge to the test immediately, rather than have to wait for a second meeting against the same opponent somewhere down the line in the same tournament, or months later at another event.
“If it’s one match it becomes difficult. In a tournament you play one league match, but then maybe you’ll meet that team again later in the semi-final or final. It’s rare. But the Pro League helps because you get to play teams back-to-back,” added Harmanpreet, who is the season’s highest scorer so far with 17 goals.
“Like against Belgium, we struggled in the first match. Our players are learning with the experience of playing better teams. So in the second match we got better and had a better structure.
“You get an opportunity to read other teams and observe them. Of course, coaches talk about it, but as players too we discuss what we did well, what worked well individually and as a team, and what we need to improve upon.”
The Indians have taken in a great deal of knowledge from this season, and also allowed younger players in the team playing time against some of the biggest teams in the sport. It’s given them a chance to test the waters ahead of the Commonwealth Games that starts in July.
But first they have the mighty Dutch to contend with. The Netherlands’ only loss this season came against Germany last week in Hamburg, which kept the season alive. They’re in a good position to win the season, given that they have four matches still left to play.
But the Indians are quietly confident, and buoyed by the fact that they want to give themselves every chance of getting something out of the season – by beating the Netherlands, twice.
“It’s a young team with many new faces. Their energy levels and structure, whatever we’ve analysed from their matches about their variations, their man-to-man marking, how they press with the ball... We know what all we need to focus on. We know what we need to do when we’re going for the full press. They’re good in the 25 yards, they use a lot of 3D skills, one-touch…” Harmanpreet added.
“But this is our daily routine. We know it’ll be a good match, it’ll be a challenge. But we know our responsibilities.”
Suraj Karkera, PR Sreejesh
Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh (Vice-Captain), Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas (Captain), Jugraj Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh
Manpreet Singh, Hardik Singh, Shamsher Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Akashdeep Singh, Nilakanta Sharma
Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Shilanand Lakra, Sukhjeet Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Abhishek
On 18th June and 19th June 2022, Indian Men’s Hockey Team will take on Netherlands in the FIH Hockey Pro League double header at 2000 hrs IST in Rotterdam. The matches will be telecast Live on Star Sports First and Disney+ Hotstar.