Advantage India for Olympic qualifiers as Belgium win EuroHockey and bag direct berth to Tokyo
After winning the FIH Series Finals, Graham Reid's team thrashed New Zealand in the final of the Olympic Test events - and now the results of the European continental championships have put the Indians in a distinctly advantageous position ahead of the qualification playoffs.
Three of the highest-ranked teams in the world -- Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands -- made it to the qualifiers via the Pro League along with Great Britain - but now that the Belgian Red Lions have won the EuroHockey Nations Championships, they will qualify directly for next year's Olympics and will not have to take part in the qualifiers.
On Saturday, world champions Belgium added another feather to their cap by winning the EuroHockey Championships, annihilating Spain by a 5-0 margin after the Spanish Red Sticks had upset the Dutch in the semifinals.
The Belgians also swept the individual prizes with Tom Boon and Alexander Hendrickx finding a place amongst the top goalscorers while Victor Wegnez and Vincent Vanasch won the Player of the Tournament and Goalkeeper of the Tournament awards respectively.
Although Argentina (WR #4) failed to make it to the qualifiers via the Pro League, the South Americans have booked an Olympic place by winning the Pam Am Games and will be defending their Olympic title at Tokyo - while Rio silver-medalists Belgians will attempt a hat-trick of grand titles following gold medals at the World Cup and EuroHockey.
As per the format of the Olympic qualifiers, 14 teams will be drawn in pairs based on their world rankings after the Oceania Cup with the highest-ranked side playing the lowest-ranked team and so on.
The Indians are currently ranked fifth in the world - and considering that their rankings do not change following the Oceania Cup next month, they will go into the Olympic qualifiers as the third highest-ranked team after Australia (WR #1) and Netherlands (WR #3), as things stand right now.
There is, however, a high probability that the Indians may well end up as the second-highest ranked side in the qualifiers since Australia have won every single edition of their continental championships (Oceania Cup), and are undeniably the overwhelming favourites to win the crown for the eleventh time in a row.
If the Aussies win the Oceania Cup, the Indians will, in effect, be the second-highest ranked side in the list of fourteen and will then play the thirteenth-ranked side in the qualifiers.
As per the rules of the competition, the Indians will also be hosting their qualifier as the higher-ranked side will play host to the lower-ranked team as per the format.
The 2019 edition of the Oceania Cup will feature only Australia and New Zealand and will be played from September 5 to September 8.