Hockey: Men fancy chances against lower-ranked NZ

Tokyo, Jul 23 (PTI):
The men would be seeking to reclaim a glorious past, while the women would be aiming to script some history of their own when the two Indian hockey teams begin their Olympic campaign here on Saturday with expectations from both at a high.
Men will be up against eighth-ranked New Zealand, followed by the women’s clash with the Netherlands.
Indian men’s hockey has a rich history in the Summer Games having won the gold an unprecedented eight times in the past, the last of which came way back in 1980 Moscow Olympics. A slump followed but the last few years have seen a resurgence in fortunes. With a current world ranking of four, the Indians are considered a bright medal prospect this time around in Tokyo.
But it would be easier said than done as India are placed in a tough Group A alongside the likes of reigning Olympic champions Argentina, mighty Australia, hosts Japan, New Zealand and Spain.
Group B consists of world champions Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands and South Africa. The top four teams from each group qualify for the quarterfinals. Going by form and current ranking, the Indians definitely start as favourites against New Zealand as after 2016 Rio Olympics, the Manpreet Singh-led side has beaten the Black Sticks eight times out of the 11 encounters between the two sides. The Indians have also scored 34 goals as against their rivals’ 14 during these matches. India’s last win against New Zealand came at the same venue here back in 2019 at the FIH Test event, where they won 5-0 in the final. But India’s chief coach Graham Reid has asked his men to stay on guard and take one match a time in pursuit of the podium finish here. “New Zealand is a very good team, and I have a lot of respect for the way they play. They are mentally very tough, and they never give up. This attitude of theirs makes them a dangerous opponent,” said Reid on the eve of their campaign opener.
“They have a very skillful forward line and honestly at the Olympics, world rankings don’t really matter. So, it will be important for us to start well on Saturday.”
The coach said having spent considerable amount of time at the pitch after arriving here, his wards are well prepared for their opener.
“When you get to somewhere new, I always like to make sure we do drills to familiarise and test the surface. Things like penalty corners and bounce of the turf is often very important because overheads also play such an important role in the matches these days,” Reid said. “We went through the intricacies of the ground in the last 3-4 days in the village and training sessions.” India captain Manpreet Singh, who is the country’s flag-bearer alongside boxing legend MC Mary Kom in Friday’s opening ceremony, cautioned against complacency. New Zealand will be led by the experienced Blair Tarrant who has 217 internationals caps to his credit. “They are a team we need to be careful of. We must stick to our basics, ensure we execute our plans properly and not get complacent at any point in the game.”

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