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OQ: Men gets it easy while for women it is not (9/9/2019)
--s2h Team
India avoided arch rivals Pakistan and will instead square up to Russia in the men’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic hockey qualifier scheduled to be held in Bhubaneswar on November 1 and 2. However, the things look a bit tough for the Indian women. The Indian women have a tougher task when they play the USA also in Bhubaneswar on the same days.

The draw was conducted at the FIH headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Monday by CEO Thierry Weil. India (World Ranking 5) enjoy the privilege of hosting the two-legged qualifier against Russia (WR 22) by virtue of being the higher-ranked nation.

In their last meeting at the FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar, India ran the Russians ragged in 10-0 win. The Indian (WR 9) women too play at home but have a tougher task against the Americans (WR 13). The Indian women drew with the USA 1-1 at last year’s World Cup in London but despite being four rungs adrift in the rankings the Americans are likely to prove a handful.

The qualifying aspirants hope to join five teams which have booked spots at Tokyo 2020 by virtue of winning their continental championships and, in Japan’s case, earning the right as hosts.

In the men’s section, Belgium (WR2, Europe), Argentina (WR4, Pan America), South Africa (Africa, WR14) and Australia (WR1,Oceania) emerged champions.

Japan (WR15) won the Asian Games to qualify on two counts and in the process extend the qualifying field to 14 nations who will vie for seven spots in the 12-nation strong Olympic tournament.

Argentina (WR3), South Africa (WR16), New Zealand (WR6) and the Netherlands (WR1) won their continental titles and with Japan (WR14), like their male counterparts clinching the Asian Games gold, the qualifying field similarly extended to 14 nations.

In other men’s qualifiers, Netherlands (WR3) take on Pakistan (WR 17) in a clash of former Olympic and World Cup champions.

The Dutch are twice Olympic champions and three-time World Cup winners. Pakistan have three Olympic gold medals in their cabinet and have inscribed their name on the World Cup on four occasions.

The quirk encounter in Amsterdam has stemmed from Pakistan’s low ranking amid financial difficulties and an isolation caused by security concerns.

The Asian powerhouse were allowed entry into the qualifiers after agreeing to pay a fine for pulling out of the inaugural FIH Pro League earlier this year.

Germany (WR 6) take on Austria (WR 20) in what seems like an easy encounter for neutral observers. However, irrelevant as it may seem, the Germans were beaten at the last indoor final at home by Austria and one wagers that the four-time Olympic champions and twice World Cup winners may well aim to get do the job with little or no presumptions.

Great Britain (WR 7) play at home against Malaysia (WR 11) in an intriguing match.

Malaysia may still be remorseful on coming within 20 seconds of qualifying directly for Tokyo in the Asian Games final which they lost in a shootout to hosts Japan and only qualifying for the Olympics will soothe the pain.

Great Britain without an Olympic medal for 31 years after clinching a monumental gold medal at Seoul 1988 will take on their Asian adversaries who aim to make their first Olympics since Sydney 2000.

Spain (WR 8), three times silver medalists, have a tricky encounter with fast rising France (WR 12) whose feats in the 2018 Odisha World Cup where they beat Olympic champions Argentina 5-3 are still rife in the memory.

New Zealand (WR 9), with an Olympic gold medal in the showcase circa 1976, have a task on hand against South Korea (WR 16).

The Koreans have been in the doldrums since the 2014 World Cup where they last featured in a global major but are plotting a resurgence to the top bracket.

The Kiwis, on their part, have shown flashes of brilliance in their recent Oceania Cup series against top guns Australia but consistency has been the Black Sticks’ bugbear.

To complete the list of seven playoffs, Canada (WR 10) were drawn against Ireland (WR 13).

The Canadians, grit and fortitude their allies, may fancy their chances against the Irish who have fallen off the top Euro tier.

In the women’s draw, other match-ups pit Australia (WR 2) vs Russia (WR 19) which should go by the script given the disparity in rankings.

So too Germany (WR 4) vs Italy (WR 17) and Great Britain (WR5), the reigning Olympic champions, vs Chile (WR18).

But Ireland (WR 8), who stunned the world while entering the World Cup final last year, take on a fast improving Canada (15) in a match that could go either way.

In other expected close battles, Spain (WR 7) play Korea (WR 11) and China (WR 10) cross swords with Belgium (WR 12) eager to put their recent Euro Championship disappointments behind them.

Teams for the qualifiers have made their way from three routes: The FIH Pro League, FIH Series Finals and World Rankings.

Intricate, as some observers feel, this edition’s qualification for a global major (the Olympics/ World Cup) brings about transparency in the final phase which held the drama of the draw.

With qualifying routes planned in a phased manner, the final seven slots will be filled in do-or-die battles unlike the ambiguity of the past.

For instance, on the road to Rio 2016, the Ireland men’s squad woke up at the crack of dawn to watch the live stream of the Australia vs New Zealand Oceania Cup on the other side of the globe to learn whether they were to exult or groan.

It turned out to be celebrations but it would have been so much sweeter had it been so in a clear-cut manner. This time around, though, there will be no ifs and buts and the calculators can be cast aside.

Seven teams of each gender will face their moment of reckoning when the nerve-wracking qualifiers get going.

Men 25/26 October: Spain – France, Valencia
26/27 October: The Netherlands – Pakistan, Amsterdam
26/27 October: Canada – Ireland, West Vancouver
1/2 November: India – Russia, Bhubaneswar
2/3 November: New Zealand – Korea, Stratford
2/3 November: Germany – Austria, Mönchengladbach
2/3 November: Great Britain – Malaysia, London

Women 25/26 October: Australia – Russia, Perth
25/26 October: China – Belgium, Changzhou
25/26 October: Spain – Korea, Valencia
1/2 November: India – USA, Bhubaneswar
2/3 November: Germany – Italy, Mönchengladbach
2/3 November: Great Britain – Chile, London
2/3 November: Ireland – Canada, Dublin

Each qualifier consists of two back-to-back matches which will be played in the same venue. The match times will be confirmed at a later stage and updated on www.FIH.ch.

The winners of these FIH Hockey Olympic qualifiers will qualify for the 2020 Olympic hockey tournaments which will be staged in Japan’s capital city from 25 July to 7 August next year and involve 12 Men’s and 12 Women’s teams. The following teams are already qualified

MEN
Japan
Argentina
South Africa
Belgium
Australia

WOMEN
Japan
Argentina
South Africa
The Netherlands
New Zealand

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