Elated with the team's performance in the FIH Hockey Pro League 2022-2023 home games where India beat reigning World Champions Germany 3-2 and 6-3 followed by 5-4 and 2-2 (4-3 SO) win against Australia, Captain Harmanpreet Singh expressed that the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium is indeed 'lucky' for Team India.
"We are happy to keep our record intact here in Rourkela. We have not lost a single match here in this magnificent stadium. Definitely, the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium is very lucky for us. When you get so much love and encouragement from fans, we want to go out there and win every single game," stated the ace drag-flicker who scored twice in India's tense shootout victory on Wednesday as quoted by a Hockey India press release.
India's outstanding feat in Rourkela, Odisha has put them on top of the pool standing in the FIH Hockey Pro League. The team now leads the chart with 19 points from eight matches and is ahead of Spain, which has 17 points from eight games, followed by Argentina in the third position with 13 points from 12 games. Reigning World Champions Germany have been pushed to no.4 in the pool standing with 11 points after 8 matches.
The result has also helped India climb up the FIH World Ranking, having beaten teams ranked higher than them. India was ranked no.6 when they began their campaign at home, while Germany was ranked No.1 and Australia ranked No.4, ahead of this year's Pro League outing. The Indian side is now ranked 4th in the world behind reigning World Champions Germany, which has dropped to 3rd in the recently updated FIH world ranking.
"I think these things (world ranking) do not matter to us so much. We do not keep this in mind when we play. Our only priority was to convert our chances and keep the pressure on the opponent. Some of the youngsters who got an opportunity to show their talent also stood up to the occasion and did very well for themselves as well as the team", said Harmanpreet, who is currently the leading goal-scorer in the FIH Hockey Pro League 2022-2023 with 11 goals, ahead of Belgium's Alexander Hendrickx with six goals.
Adding to the team's options in the forward line in a crucial year with Olympic qualification at stake, Selvam Karthi and Sukhjeet's performance has been noteworthy. Karthi is now the fourth-highest goal-scorer in the FIH Hockey Pro League while Sukhjeet and Abhishek are 7th and 8th leading scorers respectively.
"There are many positive takeaways for us from this outing here in Rourkela which will hold us in good stead as we prepare for the upcoming Asian Games," added Harmanpreet.
Another big factor that contributed to the team's success in these matches in Rourkela was the team's improved on-field communication and decisive video referrals, including the crucial one taken by goalkeeper Sreejesh during the penalty shootout. "Yes, the referral taken by Sreejesh was absolutely critical to our win. He has years of experience and understands the updated rules of the game but even some of the other video referrals by our team in crucial moments of the match were very important, this is something we work on even in our training. On-field communication was also much better this time, and we will continue to build on this," signed off Harmanpreet Singh.
The Indian Men's Hockey Team will travel to New Delhi from Rourkela today for the prestigious 5th Hockey India Annual Awards scheduled to be held on March 17, 2023 following which the team will get a two-week break before they reassemble in the National Coaching Camp. (ANI)