BHUBANESWAR, Oct 31: The Indian men�s hockey team will have to guard against complacency when it takes on lower-ranked Russia, while a tricky contest awaits their female counterparts against USA in the two-legged Olympic qualifiers here on Friday.
Both the Indian teams are just two matches away from booking their tickets to Tokyo.
While the Manpreet Singh-led men�s team is up against an easy opponent in World No. 22 Russia, the Indian women have a relatively difficult task at hand as they face the American girls in the final round of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
Both the Indian teams will play back-to-back matches against Russia and USA on Friday and Saturday and the aggregate winners at the end of the two-match qualifier (each for men and women) will seal their places in the 2020 Tokyo Games.
On paper, the Indian men, ranked fifth in the world, are expected to have a cakewalk against the Russians.
But coach Graham Reid is very well aware that one bad day in office can ruin India�s Olympic dream. So complacency is something which the Indian men cannot afford in the next two days.
The biggest improvement which Indian men witnessed under Reid in the last 12 months is the defensive structure. Along with Surender Kumar and Junior World Cup-winning team member Harmanpreet Singh, India�s defence has been rock solid in recent times.
The backline will be further bolstered by the return of seasoned dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra.
Rupinder, whose career has been plagued by injuries, got a new lease of life after being dropped from the squad following India�s poor show at the 2018 Asian Games.
The snub almost cost Rupinder his career before he regained his self confidence and forced his way back into the team for the Olympic Qualifiers here.
Another player to watch out for in India�s backline is the experienced Birendra Lakra, who replaced Varun Kumar after the latter sustained an injury on his shoulder and right bicep. � PTI