2019 Men's FIH Olympic Qualifiers, India vs Russia 1st leg: Preview, prediction, telecast, date, start time and where to watch online
Pakistan gave the Dutch a scare by holding the World Cup silver-medalists to a 4-4 draw in their first match before falling apart completely in the second by a 1-6 scoreline to allow Max Caldas' boys a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In other contests, last weekend, the French who stunned the hockey world by making it to the World Cup quarter-finals last year held the Spanish Red Sticks to a 3-3 draw before losing their second match by a slender 2-3 margin while a controversial shootout win helped Canada prevail over Ireland.
All the home teams - who also happen to the higher-ranked sides vis-a-vis their respective opponents have won their matches but not as smoothly as they would have liked to.
The second weekend of the Olympic qualifiers will witness the Indians in action - a team who could well have been the first to qualify for next year's extravaganza.
It was on 30th August, 2018 that a late equalizer from the Malaysians forced the Asian Games semi-final into a tense shootout that Harendra Singh's team eventually lost.
An Asian Games gold medal would have guaranteed a place in Tokyo 2020 for the eight-time Olympic gold-medalists but the shock defeat meant that the Indians had to take a roundabout route to the Games via the FIH Series Finals and the Olympic qualifiers.
The first hurdle was crossed at Bhubaneswar earlier this year as the Indians under the tutelage of Graham Reid won the FIH Series Finals after disposing of South Africa by a 5-1 margin in the summit clash.
En route to winning the title at the Kalinga Stadium, the Indians began their campaign in style by pummelling the Russians by a 10-0 margin - but will need to start from scratch against the same side at the very same venue in a two-match playoff to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Notwithstanding the ten-goal thrashing that the Russians were subjected to in their opener, a 3-2 win against Poland - who the Indians struggled to beat at Bhubaneswar - underlines the fact that the 22nd ranked side in the world are no pushovers.
The Russians went down fighting by a narrow 1-2 margin against South Africa in the crossovers and failed to qualify for the semi-finals but beat Poland to finish fifth with Semen Matovskiy ending up as the joint-highest scorer of the tournament along with Harmanpreet Singh and Varun Kumar.
An injured Varun has been replaced by Birendra Lakra for the qualifiers but the Indians still have a three-man PC battery consisting of Harmanpreet, Amit Rohidas and the towering Rupinder Pal Singh who will be keen to make his mark after being in and out of the side for a while now.
Former coach of the Indian men's side, Harendra Singh told Sportskeeda that he expected the hosts to win by a margin of eight to ten goals.
Here is how you can catch all the action:
Event: Olympic Qualifiers, 2019
Venue: Bhubaneswar, India
Date: 1 November, 2019
Time: 8:00 pm Indian Standard Time (IST)
Telecast: Star Sports
Live Streaming: Hotstar
Live Updates: Sportskeeda
A full-strength Indian team will be in action for the first time since last year's Champions Trophy with a menacing forward-line that can wreak havoc against the best of defences.
Unless the Russians manage to score a couple of early goals, the Kalinga Stadium is certain to witness a one-sided goal-fest that could make it impossible for the visitors to find a way back against the world's fifth-best side in Saturday's second-leg encounter.