When asked why India has improved in recent years, from losing in the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup to the podium finish in Tokyo, Max Caldas answered in one word: “Graham”.
The Spain coach spoke about Graham Reid, who resigned as Caldas’ assistant in the Netherlands shortly after the World Cup and took over India.
Calda’s glowing comments come at a time when there has been slight speculation about Reid’s future with the Indian team. After India failed to reach the Asian Champions Trophy final in December and suffered a shock defeat to France earlier this month, former Hockey India boss and current Indian Olympic Association chairman Narinder Batra has demanded an explanation for “unacceptable” actions.
Indian hockey administrators have historically been notoriously impatient with coaches who underperformed the team. As such, Batra’s comments immediately drew attention to Reid’s role in the hockey world. For now, however, those rumors have died down. Earlier this week, Reid sat down with Batra and the two had “detailed discussions regarding recent and planned appearances for the Asian Games where an Olympic spot is at stake”.
In this context, Caldas’ Spain claims Reid’s India. The two teams meet twice over the weekend when India’s first leg of the FIH Pro League begins. Over the coming weekends, India will face Germany, Argentina and England at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. If the Olympic bronze medalists are to shift into first gear after Tokyo, they’ll need to pick up speed fast against some of the best hockey teams in the world.
Some of India’s results, losing to Japan in the semi-finals of the Asian Champions Trophy and then to France in the Pro League, came as a surprise. “You can tell they were a wake-up call,” said Captain Manpreet Singh. “You shouldn’t underestimate any team. »
At the same time, it is important to put them in the right light. At the Asian Champions Trophy, Reid opted to give game time to players who hadn’t played a game in the past two years. As a result, half the players on the Olympic team had rested. Then, in the first leg of the Pro League in South Africa earlier this month, when India met France away from the host country, the manager made his two-man debut despite the core of the team being back.
More than the losses, it will be the mistakes that will worry the team. In both games India started poorly and as they caught up the players grew restless and frustrated, lacking finesse even though they created chances.
Vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh urged the players to stay “on” against Spain from the first minute. This will probably be crucial as the Europeans were also slow in their games.
Like India, Spain also had mixed performances in the first two games of the Pro League season. In the opening game against England, they never really got going and suffered an embarrassing 6-1 defeat. The next day they played a much more disciplined and attacking game but England slipped in a late goal to win the game 3-2.
Caldas teams are known to play in a structured manner, leaving very little room for their opponents. India can count on Spain to recover and counterattack rather than take the initiative. It’s the kind of game that India hasn’t felt comfortable with. It will be a test of patience, something that India has lacked in recent games.
The women make their home debut
Like the men, the Indian women’s team qualified for the doubles match against Spain thanks to mixed results. Janneke Schopman’s side suffered a surprise defeat to South Korea in the Asian Cup semi-finals a month ago but bounced back with two convincing victories over China in the Pro League.
The women’s team makes its professional league debut this season, returning to home soil for the first time since 2019, when they competed in Olympic qualifiers. The games against Spain will provide India with an opportunity to take stock of their preparations for the World Cup, which takes place in July.
While captain Rani Rampal is still recovering from injury, goalkeeper Savita Punia will continue to lead the team for this weekend’s games, in which striker Sangita Kumari will make her international debut.
India vs. Spain: Women: 5:00 p.m., Men: 7:30 p.m.; Live on Star Sports Network.
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