"Pro League opener is important as we love playing in India,'' says Netherlands coach Max Caldas (Exclusive)
The hockey world, as over the years, witnessed some epic contests that fire up passions and spark up an on-field intensity that is hard to match - like when the Indians take on Pakistan or the Dutch clash with Australia.
One of the oldest sporting rivalries in the game of hockey, however, dates back to a time when Pakistan had yet to come into existence - and the Australians were still some distance away from making a mark in the sport they now dominate.
India and the Netherlands - hockey's oldest rivals
For in the 1928 Olympics, in Amsterdam, India won their first-ever gold in the field hockey competition getting past hosts, the Netherlands, in the final and it's a rivalry that hasn't waned an inch since.
While the Indians spoilt a Dutch party, at Breda, by making it to the finals at the expense of the host nation who were hoping to strike gold in the last edition of the Champions Trophy - Max Caldas' brilliant team returned the compliments by outplaying India in the World Cup quarterfinals much to the dismay of the Odisha crowd.
The Netherlands men's team ended 2018 on a high with a World Cup silver but had to be satisfied with a couple of bronze medals last year.
A third-place finish in the inaugural Pro League was followed by another in the EuroHockey Championships of 2019 where a gold would have helped the Dutch qualify for Tokyo 2020.
No surprise then as to why Max Caldas exulted with joy when Mink Van der Weeden gave his team a two-goal lead in the second leg of the Olympic qualifiers at home.
The master drag-flicker had scored off a penalty stroke - but, that was quite enough to please a coach who had witnessed an inspired Pakistan very nearly pull off an upset in the first leg.
As it turned out, Caldas' boys got into the groove eventually and disposed of the three-time Olympic gold-medalists by a 6-1 margin that evening to register a 10-5 win on aggregate which will give the Netherlands a chance to aim for their third Olympic title.
Could the world's third-best side have done better in 2019?
"Need to be very aware of which tools you use to analyse the results"
"I think we could have done better, for sure", says Caldas but goes on evaluate the minutiae as only he can.
"You need to be very aware of which tools you use to analyse the results - and, understand the context in which we have arrived at those two bronze medals."
"How were the training periods, which players did we use and for what reasons, and how did we play the games, for example. Did we want 'more' than a bronze medal? Yes, of course, we did! Can we take something out of 2019? For sure!"
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, FIH's coach of the year for 2014, Max Caldas looks ahead to the Pro League opener which has all the makings of a hockey classic for the ages - and explains how it feels to match wits with a former colleague who is now Chief Coach of the Indian men's team.
Just over thirteen months after overcoming a determined Indian side at the Kalinga Stadium, the Netherlands will be back in action at the iconic venue to lock horns against Graham Reid's Indians.
The match which promises to be a mouthwatering encounter will also get the 2020 Hockey Pro League season underway - and, Caldas can't wait for the opener to begin.
"It is a very important opener because we love playing in India - because after a four-week holiday period, we want to play together again and because like every start, it is exciting!"
The Indians were not part of the competition last year, but the former Argentine international feels the Pro League debutants will be extremely competitive as always - cheered on by the boisterous Odisha crowd.
"I do not think that India needed to have played in the last HPL to be a force to be reckoned with. They will be good as always - playing at Odisha, they will very good too!"
"Graham Reid is a great guy with a sense of humour"
Caldas has worked alongside Graham Reid who was part of the Dutch camp before being appointed Chief Coach of the Indian team - and, holds the Aussie veteran in high regard.
"I think he is, foremost, a great guy, with a sense of humour, interested in others, a very experienced coach and very clear about how he likes hockey being played. He is a great addition to any program in the world."
Caldas was emphatic that despite a few injuries, The Oranje army would be extremely competitive in the Pro League which will then help them peak at Tokyo 2020.
"We are not taking three players of our group due to injuries and another three that are not yet ready to play games, but will come with us to the first part of the trip to Kuala Lumpur. We will have a very competitive team as the HPL is a stepping stone towards Tokyo for us, where we want to be at our best."
So, fasten your seat belts for the potential humdinger that will be played on January 18 and 19 - if you are a hockey fan, you just can't afford to miss it.Published 07 Jan 2020, 10:24 IST