FIH Series Finals focus switches to Bhubaneswar as Road to Tokyo continues

Balbir Singh | May 09, 2019 12:11 PM

BHUBANESWAR: With the dust only just beginning to settle on the FIH Series Finals opener in Malaysia, we now find ourselves about one month away from the start of the second of six competitions with great significance in terms of qualification for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, reports FIH.
 The men’s FIH Series Finals competition in Kuala Lumpur – where Canada and Malaysia claimed top two finishes to seal berths in the FIH Olympic qualifiers, which will be held in October and November 2019 – was staged at the Bukit Jalil National Hockey Stadium, the iconic venue that hosted the Men’s FIH World Cup in 2002.
 The action now switches from one world famous hockey arena to another, as Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium – India’s host venue for the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2018 – provides the setting as another batch of international teams aim to keep their Olympic dream alive.
However, before going into further details about the event itself, it is of the utmost importance to reflect upon the recent weather event that has so deeply affected the state of Odisha and the city of Bhubaneswar.
As has been widely reported, Odisha has been suffering from the devastating effects of Cyclone Fani, the Category Four Tropical Storm which made landfall in the state on Friday 3 May. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) would like to place on record that our thoughts are with the victims, their families and everyone affected by this natural disaster.
 The FIH Men’s Series Finals Bhubaneswar Odisha 2019 will take place between 6-15 June, with India (FIH World Ranking: 5), South Africa (WR:16), Japan (WR:18), Poland (WR:21), Russia (WR:23), USA (WR:26), Mexico (WR:39) and Uzbekistan (WR:55) all gracing the turf. If the recent results in Kuala Lumpur are to be seen as a gauge, there is a good chance that the action at the Kalinga Stadium will feature some upsets to the FIH World Rankings.
 As with all of the FIH Series Finals events, the competition in Bhubaneswar will consist of a two-pool round, with hosts India facing Poland, Russia and Uzbekistan in Pool A while Japan, South Africa, USA and Mexico will contest Pool B. The winners of each pool will qualify for the semi-finals, whilst the second and third placed finishers in each pool will play cross-over matches to decide who qualifies for the remaining semi-final places. The winners of the semi-finals will book a ticket not just to the event final but also the FIH Olympic qualifiers, therefore taking another important step along the road to Tokyo 2020.
As the highest ranked team in the competition and having the benefit of home advantage, India – who recently appointed Australian Graham Reid, a former defender and coach of the Kookaburras, as their new head coach – will be strong favourites to emerge victorious here in Bhubaneswar. The eight-times Olympic champions are well aware of the importance of achieving qualification for Tokyo 2020, and know that they can take a big step towards that goal with a strong performance in their own back yard. However, they are certainly not expected to have everything their own way.
Pool A rivals Poland and Russia both claimed convincing first place finishes at their respective FIH Series Open events to reach the Finals, guaranteeing that they will be no pushovers. The Poles scored 32 goals and conceded precisely zero at the Open event on home soil in Gniezno, while Russia topped the table with 13 points from a possible 15 at the FIH Series Open in Lousada, Portugal.
 Uzbekistan are the lowest ranked team competing in Bhubaneswar, but unequivocally earned the right to be here thanks to a first-place finish at the FIH Series Open event in Lahore, Pakistan. Whether they can challenge for those all-important top two positions remains to be seen, but they will certainly be determined to claim as many rankings points as possible here at the Kalinga Stadium.  
 Remarkably, Pool B contains not one but two current continental champions, with African Cup of Nations winners South Africa and Japan, the surprise winners of the 2018 Asian Games, both considered serious contenders here in Bhubaneswar. South Africa have long dominated the African continental hockey scene, winning the past seven successive Africa Cup of Nations events, while Japan produced one of the biggest hockey shocks of recent times when they claimed the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia ahead of numerous higher-ranked nations, including India.
Whilst Japan will not be heading to Bhubaneswar desperately on the hunt for Olympic qualification – a feat already achieved twice over as both champions of Asia and the host nation of Tokyo 2020 – they are certainly capable of spoiling the party for others. A top two finish for the Samurais, who are keen to continue their rapid progression in the approach to next year’s Olympiad, will mean that only one team from the FIH Men’s Series Finals Bhubaneswar Odisha 2019 will be guaranteed a place in the FIH Olympic qualifiers, with additional places in those qualifiers being determined by the FIH World Rankings at the completion of the continental championships (8 September 2019).
The Pool B line-up is completed by two teams that qualified for the Finals with strong performances at the same FIH Series Open event, taking the top two positions in Salamanca, Mexico. USA finished top of the standings by winning three and drawing one of their four matches, finished level on points with competition hosts Mexico but with a superior goal-difference. The two sides both defeated Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Panama but could not be separated when they went head to head, with higher-ranked USA trailing the Mexicans for much of their meeting before eventually drawing a superb contest 5-5.  
The FIH Men’s Series Finals Bhubaneswar Odisha 2019 is the second of three men’s Finals events, the third of which will be played in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France from 15-23 June. The three FIH Women’s Series Finals competitions all take place in June, with competitions in Ireland (Banbridge – 8-16 June), Japan (Hiroshima – 15-23 June) and Spain (Valencia – 19-27 June).

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