FIH Pro League 2020: 5 talking points from India’s thumping first-round victory over Netherlands 

Action during the second match between India and Netherlands
Action during the second match between India and Netherlands
Akshay Saraswat

The Indian men’s hockey team made a fabulous start to 2020 with an unexpected win over World Cup runners-up Netherlands in the first-round match as a part of the ongoing Men's FIH Pro League 2020.

While the 5-2 victory in the first match was simply one of the best performances by the men’s side in recent years, the hard-earned draw followed by victory in penalty strokes in the second game also reflected well on the team.

Having secured five out of the available six points, the Manpreet Singh-led side has clearly stamped their authority early on in the tournament, and have also taken large strides towards gaining some momentum ahead of the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

This was the first time that coach Graham Reid saw his team in action against a top side in a major tournament. The team recorded many impressive victories last year but lost a two-match series to Australia. Time was ripe for the team to test itself against a full-strength side in a proper setting. And the side passed the test with flying colours.

On that note, here are five talking points from India's win.

#1 Solid show from the defensive unit

PR Sreejesh was in good form
PR Sreejesh was in good form

Under the leadership of Graham Reid, the focus of the Indian team has been on playing an aggressive brand of hockey. However, the defence had looked a bit weak at times. But the way the Indian side fended off the Dutch attackers – denying them any easy space inside the circle – suggests that the defence has improved considerably.

The likes of Amit Rohidas, Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, and Surender Kumar did a great job. This vindicates all the work that has been done in the last year to make the defensive play of the team better and also the special camp that was held for this purpose.

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The vulnerability against counter-attack has also been resolved as the Dutch attackers were never allowed to run freely with the ball even when the team’s half was sparsely populated. This was one area where the team needed some improvement last year. It seems they have succeeded in this endeavour also.

#2 Vindication of Reid’s aggressive style

Right from the beginning of his tenure, Graham Reid has wanted his team to push hard even when playing against tougher opposition. His belief is that no matter how good a team is when their defence is put under pressure, a few cracks are bound to appear.

This strategy will have its toughest test when the Indian team faces off against Belgium who have a brilliant defence unit which contains, arguably, the best defender in the world currently – Arthur van Doren.

But Netherlands aren’t bad either. Yes, in the first match they looked a bit tame when defending their own half and in their own circle but they have a pretty settled backline. To score eight goals in two matches against them is a very good outcome for the Indian team.

#3 Return of Chinglensana Singh

The return of Chinglensana Singh has boosted the strength of the Indian midfield. Even though he wasn’t at the peak of his form in this match, eventually, he will start playing the kind of playmaker’s role which made him such a crucial member of the side before he contracted the injury which kept him out of the side for nearly one year.

#4 India’s prospects for the Tokyo Olympics 2020

Many Indian fans may think that if India can defeat Netherlands in such a convincing manner, they are bound to be contenders for a medal in the Tokyo Olympics 2020. However, they should remember what happened in 2016 before getting too excited.

That year, India almost created history by almost winning the Champions Trophy for the first time. The final of that event between India and Australia was a thrilling affair that ended with Australia earning a win in penalty shootouts. Not only that, they played in such a spectacular manner that, for once, they totally match Australia’s speed and aggression.

But when the Olympics came, the Indian team ended up losing in the quarterfinals to the eventual runners-up Belgium. So, let’s not go over the top in celebrating this triumph. Tougher tests lie ahead and teams like Netherlands will also improve themselves when the Olympic approaches.

#5 Post a positive start, maintaining momentum will be key

So, the start of 2020 has been quite good for the Indian team. They now have to build on this success. There are some tough decisions that lie ahead. Which new forwards have to be given chances during the course of the season – names such as Dilpreet Singh come up – will have to be decided.

There are also questions about the defence unit. Kothajit Singh didn’t play this tournament and among those who played, there may be one or two names that may miss out. But this win should be used as a springboard to greater success.

Edited by Prasen Moudgal


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