Bhubaneswar: With a Olympic qualification spot at stake, the Indian men’s hockey team would like to start their campaign in the FIH Series Finals on a winning note when they face Thursday evening unknown entity Russia in a Pool A encounter here at the Kalinga Stadium.
For the record, India at No.5 are highest-ranked team in the competition while, Russia are No. 22.
The Men in Blue, who has got a new coach in the form of former Australian manager Garham Reid are coming into this tournament on the back of an average tour Down Under. They won two games, drew one and lost the last two games against Australia.
However, the Indians will be bolstered by the return of highly-rated Ramandeep Singh after who has been out for nearly two years due to injury. India have also played a couple of practice matches against South Africa and Japan winning both of them.
Speaking at the press conference conducted Tuesday, Indian captain Manpreet Singh said, “There is no room for complacency, no matter even if we face teams who are ranked lower against us. We heard that Russia played against Belgium and hardly allowed any circle penetrations to the World Champions. So we have to be on our toes all the time.”
This is the first time the Russians will be playing at the Kalinga Stadium and they will be banking heavily on striker Marat Khairullin. He was the top scorer for Russia in their triumph in the FIH Open Series in Lousada last year with eight goals, all from open play and he can be a handful for opposition defenders.
In other games to be played on the day, USA will face South Africa in a Pool B encounter which will be the tournament opener while Poland take on Uzbekistan.
The Indian players go through their training drills at the Kalinga Stadium ahead of their opener against Russia