Bhubaneswar, Jan 20: Indian men's hockey team had a dream debut at the FIH Hockey Pro League 2020 as the boys in blue won both their matches against the Netherlands at Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Hockey Stadium.
The Manpreet Singh-led side made it five points from a possible six points on the opening weekend of the tournament, which sees participation from top nine teams between January and July.
The hosts fought back from 3-1 down against the Netherlands to tie the match before winning the shoot-out in a wonderful encounter. The home favourites had won the first game against the Dutch by a margin of 5-2 on Saturday.
In the year of the Tokyo Olympics, every team will play a total of 16 league games, eight at home and eight away. This will provide a better chance for the teams to get into the grooves for the biggest sporting event on the globe.
Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands and New Zealand will be participating in both the men's and women's leagues. While the men's leagues will be rounded off by India and Spain. The USA and China are the remaining two teams in the women's league.
Reason for starting FIH Pro League
The FIH Pro League made its debut in 2019 and replaced the FIH Champions Trophy, the World League semi-finals and finals. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) started the Pro League to enable the teams to play against each other for a longer period of time across different venues, both at home and away.
How are the home and away ties organised
The matches will be first played in the southern hemisphere with the northern hemisphere teams travelling to the Southern hemisphere and the Southern hemisphere teams playing against each other. Then the matches will move to the northern hemisphere with the southern hemisphere teams travelling to the northern hemisphere and the northern hemisphere teams playing against each other. Each team will play against every other team in the league at least twice, either at home or away.
Team India began their campaign in the tournament on January 18. Having defeated the Dutch team in both the games, the Men In Blue will now host Belgium and Australia in the month of February.
India will now be playing against Australia, Belgium and New Zealand at home and not travel to these countries for away matches. Instead, coach Graham Reid's boys will play their away games against Germany, Great Britain, Spain and Argentina.
India will host world champions Belgium for two matches on February 8-9. Australia will then travel to Bhubaneswar to play on February 22-23. India will then travel to Berlin for a couple of away games against Germany on April 25-26. Team India will then travel to Great Britain to play matches on May 2-3.
The Men In Blue will then return to play at home and host New Zealand on May 23-24, before heading to Argentina where it will play on June 5-6. They will play their final two matches in the league stages against Spain on June 13-14.
What did India head coach Graham Reid say?
"It will be important to start strong and sharp in the Pro League with our first three encounters against the top three teams in the world. We will be focussing on getting our structures right and honing our set plays as preparation for our Olympic campaign."