Expect a good challenge from Russia: Sreejesh

Custodian hopes the tour to Belgium will help the team prepare for the Olympic Qualifiers

The Indian men’s hockey team goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh said on Wednesday that he expects a good challenge from Russia in the Tokyo Olympic Qualifiers despite a vast gap between the two sides in world rankings.

The Indian men’s team, ranked fifth, is pitted against world No. 22 Russia in the final round of the Tokyo Olympics qualifiers. India will play back-to-matches against Russia in Bhubaneswar on November 1 and 2 to seal a berth in the Games.

“It is every player’s dream to play the Olympics and Russia, who are now investing in hockey and want to do well in this sport, will surely come well-prepared. We can expect a good challenge from them,” Sreejesh said.

Eight-time Olympic champion India had mauled Russia 10-0 in the FIH Series Final in Bhubaneswar earlier this year.

Mentally prepared

Before the draw took place, the players were mentally prepared to take on any opponent, be it Pakistan or Austria, Sreejesh said.

“We had discussed what it would take from the team if we had to play Pakistan or Austria or for that matter Egypt who later dropped out. So in that sense, we were mentally prepared to take on any team. Also, I think retaining the world ranking at No. 5 was a boon.”

Sreejesh hoped the tour to Belgium, starting on September 26, will help the team prepare for the Olympic Qualifiers.

“I think playing world champion Belgium will be like a preparatory test before the actual exam,” he said.

The 31-year-old said the team has been working on strengthening the defence among other things.

“We have been working on an improved defensive structure, better penalty corner defending and also on scoring opportunities. It will be important to execute this as planned against Belgium,” Sreejesh said.

Pat for youngsters

About India’s goalkeeping options, he commended younger compatriots Suraj Karkera and Krishan Bahadur Pathak for a good show in the Olympic Test Event in Tokyo.

“It’s good to see both of them perform well. It is always good to have competition within the team and I am enjoying the role of mentoring them and at the same time improving my own game.”

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