India will play two matches each against Germany and Great Britain on their exposure tour of Europe (Photo: Ho...Read More
NEW DELHI: After a long wait and failed attempts to end the year-long Covid-forced hiatus, the Indian men's hockey team is finally in international match mode and has hit the road with a tour of Europe.
In Germany for their first of two assignments, the visitors will take on the Rio Olympics bronze medallists for their first competitive games in more than a year, followed by matches against Great Britain in Belgium.
“I am very happy that India have come to Germany in these difficult times," said Germany's coach Kais al Saadi, welcoming the Indian team led by veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh.
Before taking off for Europe, Hockey India tried to get back on the pitch with the 'Summer Series' in South Africa, but it was called off due to a surge in Covid-19 cases and mutation of the virus there. After that, the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka was postponed.
"There are really good and friendly connections with the [Indian] federation, especially with [India coach] Graham Reid," Al Saadi told Timesofindia.com.
Regular India skipper Manpreet Singh opted out of the tour due to personal reasons, while two other experienced players -- drag-flicker Rupinderpal Singh and striker SV Sunil -- have also not been picked.
Rupinder has been omitted due to an injury but the reasons to not include Sunil are unknown.
(Graphic shared by Hockey India on Twitter)
"As Manpreet, Rupinder and Sunil are world class players, every team would miss them. But India has a big talent pool with very talented youngsters, so I am sure they will play with a strong and competitive team,” Al Saadi said in response to Timesofindia.com's question.
The German coach spoke the most encouragingly about India in context of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in July-August this year.
"The Indian team is an important team to compare with, because they improved a lot in the last few years and are truly amongst the closest medal candidates for Tokyo," he further told TimesofIndia.com about India's chances at the Games.
Less than 6 months to go!𝐷𝑖𝑠𝑐𝑙𝑎𝑖𝑚𝑒𝑟: 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑖𝑚𝑎𝑔𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑡𝑎𝑘𝑒𝑛 𝑝𝑟𝑖𝑜𝑟 𝑡𝑜 𝑀𝑎𝑟𝑐ℎ 2020.#IndiaKaGame https://t.co/RKldgql1fV— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) 1613820600000
Besides the two matches against the hosts on February 28 and March 2, Saadi said that the German team will also try and have a "common training session" with the visitors with all the Covid-related precautions in place.
"We will do [play] two Test matches and will also try to do a common training session, always with Covid-19 tests before. We will work in a very safe bubble for everyone," Al Saadi said.
Enroute Europe ✈️ Wish the #MenInBlue good luck for their first International Tour in 12 months! 😍#IndiaKaGame https://t.co/FyCYhALjaO— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) 1613892687000
After Germany, India will take on Great Britain on March 6 and 8 in Belgium.
India last played an international fixture on February 22, 2020, when they hosted Australia for the FIH Pro League tie in Bhubaneswar.