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Men's FIH Pro League 2020: India vs Netherlands Preview

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Feature
Modified 17 Jan 2020, 20:38 IST

The last time these two teams faced each other, it was the World Cup quarterfinal
The last time these two teams faced each other, it was the World Cup quarterfinal

Last time India faced Netherlands at the now-famous Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, it was the momentous occasion of a World Cup quarter-final. However, the excitement and expectations turned into disappointment and dejection as the Indian team lost 2-1 to the Dutch side.

This time, it will be another momentous occasion when the two teams face off at the same venue in the opening match in the second season of FIH Men’s Pro League. Unlike last year’s season in which India didn’t participate, in the 2020 season, there won’t be home and away matches for each team against each team. This would cut down on the excessive travel and the accompanying stress.

These matches, the first in a series of two, would be extremely important for the Indian team as they would finally get tested in a major event against a top team in the world. Last year, the biggest challenge that the team faced was when they toured Australia for a two-match series which they lost.

Indian team has been playing very aggressively over the last few months
Indian team has been playing very aggressively over the last few months

India's style of play

Apart from that tour, the team has been winning consistently and even defeated the World champions Belgium, albeit a much-depleted version of their team, on a tour of Europe. But with the Tokyo Olympics fast approaching, it is time for the Indian side to step up to the next gear.

Coach Graham Reid has introduced a very attacking style of play in the team and has said that he wants his team to put pressure even on higher ranked sides. At times, when the team has played in an all-out attacking manner, the defence has been exposed against fast counter-attacks.

This is an area that the Indian team can’t afford to be weak in when facing the World Cup runners-up. However, it is quite likely that against a top side like the Dutch team, the Indians are going to be a little more careful in their forward press.

Indian midfield will be much stronger with Chinglensana returning to it
Indian midfield will be much stronger with Chinglensana returning to it

Chinglensana's return

What will be a big boost for India is the return of their talismanic midfielder Chinglensana Singh. He has been, in the last couple of years, one of the most, if not the most important player in the side. One can even say that he is the successor to Sardara Singh in the midfield. This would be the first time the Manipur lad would be playing under Graham Reid. How the coach uses him would be keenly watched.

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Speaking about his return to the side, Chinglensana revealed what a struggle it has been. “It was a very difficult phase for me. I was not allowed to use my lower body much which resulted in me gaining about 5-6 kilos. I was not sure if I could come back again for the Indian team. I didn't play hockey for about eight months but I never gave up hope.

“During this period I ensured I stayed fit, followed a systematic routine provided by our Scientific Advisor Robin Arkel which involved gym, cycling and I followed a strict diet. It was important to ensure my weight was under control and as such I had given up on rice completely,” he said.

SV Sunil has settled nicely back into the team
SV Sunil has settled nicely back into the team

Indian forward line

With SV Sunil having returned to the team last year, the side does look a little bit more settled. But do keep an eye on the youngsters in the forward line also. Both Gursahibjit Singh and Dilpreet Singh performed really well in the Sultan of Johor Cup last year. The latter will have to wait for is turn but Gursahibjit has already made an impression on coach Reid.

Formidable Dutch line-up

For the Dutch team, their play would be structured around the veteran Billy Bakker. A player who is very familiar with Odisha due to his association with Kalinga Lancers in Hockey India League, Bakker controls his team’s game from his position in the midfield.

One player India should be careful in negating is the Dutch center-forward Mirco Pruisjer. He had a somewhat disappointing World Cup at this venue in 2018 and would look for a change of fortunes. Combining physical prowess with great marksmanship, he is among the best in the World. The likes of Rupinder Pal Singh and Amit Rohidas will have a tough time tackling him.

Billy Bakker has proven to be a great leader for his team and is familiar with conditions in Odisha
Billy Bakker has proven to be a great leader for his team and is familiar with conditions in Odisha

Another very dangerous player in the Dutch outfit is their winger Jeroen Hertzberger. He too is a man that Indian defenders will have to closely mark.

Both coaches are looking forward to the event. This would be the first major global event for Indian coach Graham Reid. Max Caldas, the Dutch coach, on the other hand, has been at the helm for a long time and has seen his team succeed at the top level consistently.

But the Pro League this year would serve as something more than just another competition. It will be the tournament through which teams would seek to find the right combination for the Olympics. For India, who have been taking two steps forward and one step back in recent years, such an opportunity in invaluable.

Published 17 Jan 2020, 00:23 IST
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