The Indian men’s hockey team, ranked No.4 in the world, is ready to face world No.6 Germany in the first of the four-match tour of Europe beginning on Sunday, said an upbeat captain PR Sreejesh.
“The entire team is very excited and eager to get on with the first match. It’s been more than a year since we played a competitive match, and we are prepared for the challenge,” said Sreejesh, also the team’s goalkeeper.
“It’s been about five days since we arrived in Krefeld and the weather too has not been too cold. It was about 16-18 degrees when we practiced yesterday [Friday], and we are quite comfortable playing in this weather,” he said.
Sreejesh pointed out that the team was getting to play a competitive match after one year due to Covid-19.
India last played in the FIH Hockey Pro League held in January and February last year where the team took on the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia on home ground in Bhubaneswar.
“Not playing competitive matches in over a year has been very difficult, mostly mentally than physically. But the coaching staff ensured the sessions during the national camp were planned in such a way that it would excite us players and they tried to create an environment of competition in the group. Though we played a lot of matches internally over the past few months in SAI [Sports Authority of India], the next few weeks in Europe will show exactly where we are at in terms of performance,” Sreejesh said.
The captain emphasised that this tour would help the team set the parameters for preparation for this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“These matches against Germany and Great Britain are super important for our preparations. It is an opportunity to test ourselves tactically, physically and mentally. We are very lucky to be able to play against quality teams, despite the ongoing pandemic. This outing will help us set the parameter and enable us to plan our months leading up to the Olympics,” he said.
In the context of playing Germany, Sreejesh said: “We have watched this team closely, analyzed their game and replicated how we must play against them during the past few weeks in camp. They play man-to-man and our style of play will be slightly tweaked in order to succeed against them. The whole idea is to implement what we have been doing in camp these past few months and the focus will be on ourselves.”
Sreejesh also spoke about the supposed challenges of playing in a bio-bubble.
“There are no challenges in this regard. We are very used to being in a bio-bubble and also understand very well that the pandemic is still not over, and that we need to be responsible. We have received very strict SOP for this tour, and we are following it to the T,” he said.