The Indian men’s hockey team will ramp up its Olympic preparations with tours of Germany and Belgium this month. This will be its first international sojourn since the COVID-19 pandemic halted sporting activities across the world last March.
A core group of 22 players and six support staff will leave from Bengaluru for Krefeld, Germany on Sunday, where they will play the home team on February 28 and March 2.
The Indians will then travel to Antwerp, Belgium, where they are scheduled to play against Great Britain on March 6 and 8.
The Indian team will be captained by goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh, while drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh has been named as his deputy for the 17-day tour.
The men’s team last participated in an international competition in February last year when they played the FIH Hockey Pro League matches against Australia in Bhubaneswar.
The team has been camping at Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) campus in Bengaluru since the players joined back training in January.
“We are very grateful for the opportunity to go to Europe, and we are looking forward to having our first competitive matches in just over 12 months,” Indian men’s team chief coach Graham Reid said.
“Playing against powerhouse teams like Germany and Great Britain will provide us with great competition and help immensely in our FIH Hockey Pro League and Olympic Games preparation. Playing any top 10 ranked team is always a great experience for the team.
“This tour will help us set the yardstick to prepare for the forthcoming events and give us an understanding of where we stand with respect to the rigorous training we have been undergoing for the last few months in Bengaluru,” he added.
Harmanpreet was excited about the opportunity and said the matches will help in understanding where the team stands currently.
“We are absolutely excited to be travelling for the first time in over a year. Playing against Germany and Great Britain will help us set the parameters for preparing best ahead of FIH Hockey Pro League which is our immediate competition ahead of the Olympic Games.
“We understand the weather in Europe will be quite cold this time of the year, but we have almost a week to acclimatise. We are looking forward to this exciting challenge, we can’t wait to get into competition mode,” he said.
The 22-member squad doesn’t feature regular skipper Manpreet Singh, who it is learnt that has opted out of the tour due to personal reasons. Rupinderpal Singh and Varun Kumar are also unavailable because of injuries.
According to a Hockey India statement, the entire contingent will undergo a COVID-19 RT-PCR Test 48 hours prior to their departure.
The statement further stated that though there is no requirement of quarantine upon arrival in Germany, the team will still be following all safety and health measures as advised by the governments of India, Germany and Belgium.
The Indian women’s team resumed international hockey when it toured Argentina last month.
Team: Goalkeepers: PR Sreejesh (c), Krishan Bahadur Pathak.
Defenders: Amit Rohidas, Dipsan Tirkey, Gurinder Singh, Harmanpreet Singh (vice-captain), Surender Kumar, Jarmanpreet Singh, Birendra Lakra.
Midfielders: Chinglensana Singh, Nilakanta Sharma, Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Rajkumar Pal, Simranjeet Singh, Shamsher Singh, Akashdeep Singh.
Forwards: Gurjant Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Dilpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay.