Expectations will be high when the Indian men’s hockey team and their women counterparts kick start their Tokyo Olympics campaigns on Saturday against New Zealand and the Netherlands respectively.
India has a rich history in the Olympics and won eight gold medals, the last of which came in 1980. However, the dominance was followed by a massive slump. Of late, though, the team has seen a resurgence in fortunes. Indians are currently ranked fourth and are one of the strongest title contenders. The Men in Blue are placed in Group A, considered as the group of death, alongside reigning Olympic champions Argentina, mighty Australia, hosts Japan, New Zealand and Spain.
Group B comprises world champions Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands and South Africa. The top four teams from each group will qualify for the quarter-finals.
India have been in fine form of late and will start as favourites against New Zealand. The Manpreet Singh-led side have defeated New Zealand eight times out of the 11 encounters after the 2016 Rio Olympics. India have also scored 34 goals as compared to Kiwis’ 14. However, India’s chief coach Graham Reid has assured that India are not going to take New Zealand lightly.
“New Zealand is a very good team, and I have a lot of respect for the way they play. They are mentally very tough, and they never give up. This attitude of theirs makes them a dangerous opponent,” said Reid on the eve of their campaign opener.
“They have a very skillful forward line and honestly at the Olympics, world rankings don’t really matter. So, it will be important for us to start well on Saturday,” he added.
For the women’s team, they will be up against a tough Netherlands. Post the Rio Olympics, the Indian women’s team have grown from strength to strength. They won the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy, 2017 Asia Cup, the silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games and reached the quarterfinals of the 2018 Women’s World Cup for the first time in history. They would love to have an Olympic medal.