India head coach Graham Reid hopes team can deliver results 'at Pro League level' against Argentina
Compared to Argentina, India have played more games since hockey resumed post the coronavirus-induced stoppage and also got time to rectify issues and work on their game.
After going undefeated in their European tour last month, which also marked the team's return to international hockey after a year, the Indian men's hockey team will be hoping to pull off similar results in their latest campaign against Argentina.
Graham Reid's side are in Argentina to play six matches against the reigning Olympic champions, which will also include two crucial FIH Pro League games on 10 and 11 April. The tour actually begins with two practice matches on 6 and 7 April and two more games are scheduled on 13 and 14 April.
Manpreet Singh, who missed the earlier matches against Germany and Great Britain due to personal reasons, is back to lead the side and he spoke about how the team is preparing to achieve yet another 'unbeaten' tour along with building momentum for the all-important Tokyo Olympics. To pull off six wins against Argentina will not be an easy task but head coach Reid is hoping that his players will step up and perform at the Pro League level.
"I think the great thing we learned from our Europe tour is that it is good to just get out and play international competition, We are looking forward to getting up to the Pro League level. It is a different level of the sport and especially playing against Argentina at home is going to be really challenging for us," Reid told Firstpost before their departure to the South American country.
Apart from skipper Manpreet, dragflick specialist Rupinder Pal Singh and defender Varun Kumar are also back in the team after missing the previous tour due to injuries. The likes of Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, and Simranjeet Singh who played the matches in Europe have been rested while Jaskaran Singh, Shilanand Lakra, and Sumit will feature in international outings after more than a year.
This week is going to be packed with hockey action between Team Argentina and #TeamIndia! 🔥
— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) April 5, 2021
Reid is happy that most of his players from the squad have got the game time in Europe and the return of Manpreet will not only provide the stability in the midfield and but his leadership will also benefit the team.
"I think the boys are fit. Majority of the squad have got some games under their belts. It is good to have Manpreet back in the side. He provides a little bit of leadership and stability in the middle of the pitch so looking forward to it."
Argentina played two back-to-back Pro League matches against Germany at home on 3 and 4 April and suffered defeats on both occasions - a 2-3 loss followed by a 0-3 drubbing. Argentina were bereft of match practice as they were playing for the first time in more than a year and it showed in their performance against Germany. After the defeats, forward Nicolás Keenan spoke about how the team was happy to be back after a long break and they got the much-needed playing time against tough opposition.
Compared to Argentina, India have played more games since hockey resumed post the coronavirus -induced stoppage and also got time to rectify issues and work on their game. Out of the four matches they played against Germany and Great Britain, India ended up winning twice and played out two draws.
No doubt India put out a good show against tough opponents. In their first match of the tour, they hammered Germany 6-1 and followed it up with a 1-1 draw. In the two matches against Great Britain, India scored late twice to earn a draw (1-1) and then a superb victory (3-2). The fighting spirit has impressed Reid but he insists that the team is looking for improvements when it comes to the defensive side of things.
"We are looking for improvements in our structure, especially without the ball. We are trying to refine it as we come up against different styles of play. It is always good to have the ability to morph into a different style of defence or press depending on who you play. It is definitely an area that we have been looking at," Reid said.
"We are constantly putting work into penalty corner attacks and penalty corners defence. Creating more opportunities upfront and also making the best of our defensive responsibilities."
Defender Harmanpreet Singh also echoed similar feelings and said that adapting to Argentina's style of play, which is "slightly different compared to the teams in Europe" will be a crucial factor when it comes to finding success in the upcoming matches.
At the moment, India are fifth on the Pro League standings with 10 points after six matches. Germany's two victories against Argentina pushed them to the second spot with 19 points to their name. Belgium lead the table with 32 points from 13 games.
After their sojourn in Argentina, India are supposed to play Pro League matches against the likes of Great Britain, Spain, Germany, and New Zealand in the month of May.
With the visitors ahead only by a goal, the last quarter was a battle of nerves with the home team stepping on the gas to secure an equaliser.
Returning to the Indian team after a year, Manpreet shared his excitement about playing against a top-quality side.
Argentina sit sixth in the FIH Hockey Pro League standings, with 11 points from 12 games.