The Indian men’s hockey chief coach, Graham Reid said on Saturday that every individual in the side will have to take the upcoming FIH Pro League matches against South Africa and France seriously, given that these are the first matches of the year and the team wouldn’t want to start on a losing note.
India will travel to South Africa for the Pro League matches against South Africa and France, set to take place between February 8 and February 13 in Potchefstroom. Ahead of the matches, Reid also spoke about the two oppositions and explained why it will be a challenging tour.
“South Africa matches will come after their African Cup of Nations title-win. They will be keen to continue what they started at (the) Tokyo Olympics last year,” said Reid on Saturday.
“France are an up-and-coming nation in hockey who did well at the Junior World Cup. They also have a new coach in Fred Soyez, who will bring in a new influx of tactics. These will be two very difficult and challenging oppositions,” he added.
India have picked an experienced side for the four games, with senior players such as goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, Amit Rohidas, and Mandeep Singh returning, after being rested for the Asian Champions Trophy in Bangladesh last month.
“We want to ensure that our players and everyone understands how seriously we are taking these games. The team we have picked is pretty reflective of that. We also want the players who have not had opportunities to play since the Olympics to get back in the fray.”
India captain Manpreet Singh spoke about the importance of the matches and said the rivals cannot be underestimated.
“These are the first matches of this year and we want to start on a positive note. Our first focus is that we do not underestimate any team. We want to play these matches and improve ourselves and increase our confidence, especially with Asia Cup and Asian Games coming up this year, followed by the World Cup in 2023,” said Manpreet.
Youngsters Jugraj Singh and Abhishek have also been included in the squad for the first time and if selected in the 18 will make their international debut on the tour.
“Jugraj is a versatile player as he plays both in the midfield and in defence. He is very quick when he dragflicks. Abhishek is a striker who scored quite a few goals at the National Championships. He was quite prolific in the trial games we had at the camp. It will be exciting for these two guys to make their debut,” Reid said.