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India brace for Samurai challenge in FIH Series Finals semis

Errol D’Cruz

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New Delhi: India may just find themselves under additional pressure when they take on Japan in the FIH Series Finals semifinal in Bhubaneswar on Friday.

The eight-nation tournament is a step toward Olympic qualification.

India, though well ahead in the World Rankings at 5th as opposed to Japan’s 18th, need to cross the semifinal hurdle to book their spot in the Olympic qualifiers scheduled for October-November.

Japan, as hosts and Asian Games champions, have already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Siegfried Aikman’s team is likely to play without that element of pressure – and fear – when they tread the blue pitch at the Kalinga Stadium.

The hosts, coached by Graham Reid of Australia, though, are expected to pack too many guns for the sprightly Japanese.

In the Asian Games in Jakarta last year, India trounced the eventual gold medalists 8-0 in a pool match.

They then went one better , walloping the Japanese 9-0 in the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat, Oman, shortly later.

Japan, however, went down by just 2-3 in the semifinals suggesting that a change in strategy and outlook, orchestrated by the astute Aikman, worked wonders.

The Japanese want to put their best foot forward at next year’s Olympics.

They last played at the Games way back in Mexico 1968 but made sure they qualified on merit by winning the 2018 Asian Games final in a thriller against Malaysia.

Japan came back from a 2-5 deficit to take the final against Malaysia to the shootout after a 6-6 draw in regulation time.

It was momentous, not merely for winning their first Asian Games gold medal. The keynote for success was determination and motivation to come back against such odds – the biggest being the assurance of already having clinched a spot in the Olympics as hosts.

“We qualified for the Olympics on merit,” boomed the otherwise soft-spoken Aikman at the 2018 Bhubaneswar World Cup he witnessed as an observer.

“We want to play the FIH Series Finals with the same intensity, especially since it means picking up ranking points ,” the Dutchman of Surinamese and Indian origin asserted.

Aikman must surely repose faith in his sprightly unit. They are fit, speedy and motivated. Players like midfielder Kenta Tanaka and namesake Seren are terrors to any defence.

Hirotaka Zendana packs a mighty punch at penalty corners and Kentaro Fakuda,Shota Yamada and Murata Kazuma can stretch even the best of teams.

No wonder Aikman declared, after Japan’s 6-2 win over Poland in the cross-overs on Wednesday, that his team’s aim is to win the tournament in Bhubaneswar.

His words after the semifinal victory revealed a lack of fear in playing India.

“Life itself is a challenge. Playing a good team like India is a big challenge. And we happily accept this challenge,” the genial Aikman said.

The Dutchman’s grim visage gave way to a beaming smile after the rousing win over Poland.

Japan began the tournament slowly, labouring to a 3-1 win over 39th-ranked Mexico before pulling off a 2-0 win over South Africa ranked two notches above at No. 16.

A 2-2 draw against USA meant Japan finished second in the pool on goal difference and would need to win their crossover to make the semifinals and clash with India prematurely.

The 26th ranked Americans beat 16th ranked-South Africa 2-0, a crucial result in the pool which went a long way to fetching them top spot and a direct entry into the semifinals.

For all that, India know they have the firepower to quell Japan’s bid to make the final and play the winners of South Africa vs USA.

But there have chinks in the armoury.

Poland (ranked No. 21) stifled India’s forward line where the effervescent Akashdeep Singh and sharpshooting Mandeep were kept on a leash even though the hosts won 3-1.

The hosts began in whirlwind fashion, swamping Russia 10-0 but lacked the fluency they would have liked while playing the 22nd ranked nation floundering in the heat that often soared into the mid-30s Celsius.

Then, in a 10-0 win against the lowest ranked team in the competition Uzbekistan, the penalty corner battery left much to be desired despite three drag-flickers – Harmanpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar in the team.

Still, India have converted 38.46 percent (10/26) of their penalty corners. Japan have scored from 25 percent (6/24) of the set-piece.

Japan have averaged 36.75 circle entries – the latest gauge for match domination – against India’s 47.66, mainly boosted by playing 43rd ranked Uzbekistan where they registered 63.

The compelling stat, though, is the 13-1 head-to-head win record since 2013 with a 63-15 goal tally in favour of India.

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India submits bid to host 2023 men’s hockey World Cup

Press Trust of India

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Hockey World Cup

Lausanne (Switzerland): India is among the three nations who have presented their bids to host the next edition of the men’s World cup, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) said on Thursday.

India, who have hosted the men’s World Cup thrice, wants to conduct the event in the January 13 to 29, 2023 window.

Belgium and Malaysia are the other two nations who have also sent their bidding dossier to conduct the men’s event but they prefer to host the event in the July 1 to 17, 2022 window.

For the Women’s World Cup, five countries have presented their bids, the FIH said in a release.

While Germany, Spain and the Netherlands want to host the event in the July 1 to 17, 2022 window, Malaysia and New Zealand are keen to conduct the tournament in the January 13 to 29, 2023 window.

“It’s great to see that so many national associations and countries want to host our quadrennial flagship events. This is encouraging for the further growth of our sport,” FIH CEO Thierry Weil said.

An FIH Task Force will meet on November 6 to thoroughly examine all bids and make a recommendation to the Executive Board (EB).

The EB will take the final decision on both events’ hosts on 8 November 2019 during their next meeting in Lausanne.

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Indian hockey team in good shape, says women’s coach Sjoerd Marijne

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Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne
Sjoerd Marijne with his wards.

Bhubaneswar: FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers is to be held on 1st and 2nd November 2019 in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

This is the first time the Indian women’s team will be playing at the Kalinga Stadium. Rani, the team’s skipper said, “We have been looking forward to play here for a long time now. This is a dream come true moment for many of us and we thoroughly enjoyed our first session of training at the Kalinga Stadium on Monday. We are hopeful hockey lovers from this region will come to support us in our quest to make the qualification for 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”

Chief coach Sjoerd Marijne has emphasised on the two high-intensity practice sessions which take place on 19th and 26th October at the Kalinga Stadium.

“I want the athletes to have an idea of the kind of atmosphere they will be playing in on match days. We have opened two of our training sessions on Saturdays in the lead up to the event, so that the players can get a feel of the environment here,” said Marijne.

Speaking about the next two weeks in Bhubaneswar where the women’s team is training, Marijne said, “I think we are in that perfect rhythm at the moment and I want the players to build on this momentum. We are training one session every day and I am quite happy with the energy and confidence the girls are showing.”

The Indian Women’s Team will have open training sessions on 19th and 26th October 2019. These practice sessions will be open for public in order to give the local support the opportunity to watch their Women’s team’s players live in action before the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers Odisha.

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India beat Belgium for fourth straight hockey victory

Press Trust of India

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ind vs bel
Action during the match.

Antwerp (Belgium): The Indian men’s hockey team eked out a fighting 2-1 win over reigning World and European champions Belgium to register their fourth consecutive win of the tour here on Tuesday.

Amit Rohidas (10th minute) and Simranjeet Singh (52nd) scored for world no.5 India.

Belgium’s lone goal came from the stick of captain Felix Denayer in the 33rd minute.

Riding high on confidence after their 5-1 win over Spain in the third match of the Tour of Belgium, the Indian men’s hockey team started on an attacking note against the hosts and earned a penalty corner in the 10th minute, which was duly converted by Rohidas to give his side the lead.

World no. 2 Belgium, however, did not sit back and tried to counter the Indian attacks.

But some last-ditch defending from the Indians coupled with some fine saves by experienced goalkeeper P R Sreejesh helped the visitors go into first quarter break with a one goal lead.

The second 15 minutes had a similar story as the visiting team enjoyed possession in the opening few minutes, creating a few chances but the quarter ended with the hosts putting intense pressure on their opponents.

With five minutes to go for half-time, Belgium earned their first penalty corner of the match, but Indian custodian Krishan B Pathak, who replaced Sreejesh for the second quarter, made an outstanding save to deny the world champions from levelling the scores.

India, thus, managed to maintain their one goal lead at the halfway break.

Belgium showed their quality in the opening minutes of the third quarter as they secured another penalty corner in the 33rd minute and Denayer scored with stunning drag-flick to level the scores.

Thereafter, both the teams seemed focused on not giving away possession cheaply as the third quarter ended on level terms.

Belgium made a fast start in the final quarter and won a couple of penalty corners in quick succession but Pathak was upto the task again as he made some crucial diving saves to deny the hosts.

India, on the other hand, were happy to sit back and wait for their opportunity.

India’s tactic bore fruit in the 52nd minute when they scored a well-constructed team goal in the 52nd minute through Simranjeet.

Down by a goal, Belgium attacked in numbers in the dying stages of the match and in the process earned another penalty corner, but the Indians came up with some resolute defending to secure their fourth consecutive win of the tour.

The Indian men’s hockey team will again face Belgium on Thursday.

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