It was in 2014, that the city of Bhubaneswar made its mark in the hockey world by playing host to the prestigious Champions Trophy, while the passionate crowds continued to throng the galleries of the Kalinga Stadium for the Hockey World League Finals in 2017, and played their part in ensuring the resounding success of last year's World Cup.
Hockey action returns to Odisha yet again - as seven teams from Asia, Europe, North America, and Africa join the hosts to battle it out in the second leg of the FIH Series Finals.
Canada and Malaysia have progressed to the Olympic qualifiers by making it to the finals of the Kuala Lumpur edition of the FIH Series Finals, and it will be the endeavour of all the teams at Bhubaneswar to do precisely the same - as only the top two sides can progress to the next round scheduled in October-November.
Pool A features Poland (WR #21), Russia (#22), and Uzbekistan alongside the Indians who are currently ranked fifth in the world, while Pool B comprises Japan (WR#18), South Africa (WR #16), United States (#25), and Mexico.
Asian Games gold-medalists Japan do not need to qualify for Tokyo 2020 being the host nation, but will be expected to make it to the semifinals from Pool B, as will South Africa who were part of Odisha 2018.
The Indians begin as the overwhelming favourites but will need to overcome their knockout jitters after having lost the semifinals of the Asian Games and the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup to Malaysia and South Korea respectively.
Canada and Malaysia - and the top two from the Bhubaneswar tournament - will be joined by the finalists from the Le Toquet leg of the FIH Series Finals which begins on June 15.
In the last round of the Olympic qualifiers, the six finalists from the FIH Series Finals, the top four teams from the ongoing FIH Pro League, and the four top-ranked sides at the end of the 2019 continental championships (not already qualified) will attempt to outdo the other in order to make it to Tokyo 2020.
By virtue of their world rankings, the Indians may be able to nudge their way into the Olympic qualifiers even if they fail to make it to the finals at the Kalinga Stadium, but will need to await the results of the continental championships (Pan American Games, African Olympic Qualifiers, EuroHockey Championships, and Oceania Cup).
In short, a slot becomes vacant if any of the ten teams who have made it to the qualifiers wins a continental championship, which is then filled by the next-top ranked team as per the FIH ranking updations following the Oceania Cup in September.
Incidentally, the Indians - who are the top-ranked Asian side by a huge margin - could well have been the first team to book a ticket to Tokyo, if only they had managed to win the Asian Games last year, and will not be keen to prolong the wait with regard to ensuring a passage to the Olympics.
Here is how you can catch the action:
Event: Men's FIH Hockey Series Finals, 2019
Venue: Bhubaneswar, India
Dates: June 6 to June 15
India: Star Sports, Star Sports HD
Live Streaming: Hotstar, FIH Live
Live Updates: SportskeedaPublished 04 Jun 2019, 12:22 IST