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Hockey Pro League: India bank on experience, home conditions against tricky Argentina

Olympic bronze medallist India take on Rio Olympics gold medallist Argentina in an FIH Hockey Pro League double-header over this weekend with the two teams going into the encounters having faced contrasting results in their previous matches.

While India lost to Spain 3-5 in their previous match in the Pro League on February 27 while Argentina defeated England at home on February 20. Both teams have not played any matches since — while India’s games against Germany were postponed due to Covid-19 cases, Argentina have had a break after playing at home and are now playing their first away matches at the Kalinga Stadium.

India are currently placed second in the Pro League standings while Argentina are placed sixth in the 9-team league. Incidentally, Argentina have played only four matches while India have played six.

But more importantly, India have so far played against France, South Africa and Spain, the three lowest-ranked teams in the Pro League while Argentina have played World No 2 Belgium and No, 7 England, winning three matches — their lone defeat coming against Belgium (0-2).

In the last encounter between the two teams, India had defeated Argentina in the league phase of the Tokyo Olympics. last year and thus Argentina will be hoping to exact revenge when they meet again in the first match of their FIH Pro League double-header at the Kalinga Stadium here on Saturday.

However, Argentina head coach Mariano Ronconi, who took charge from former star Carlos Retegui after the Olympics, said that match will not have any bearing on the Pro League matches.

“Yes, India had won that match but that was different, the conditions were different. The current Indian team is different from that one while we have a lot more youngsters in our side and we will be trying to do our best,” Ronconi told the pre-match virtual press conference on Friday.

Besides an Indian team that has struggled for consistency, the South Americans will also have to battle the weather conditions that are very hot and humid, unlike the weather currently in their country.

Captain Matias Rey said the humidity will be a factor.

“As a team, we feel we have to play like we have played the last couple of matches against England. We have to be strong on the ball. When we don’t have the ball, we have to be really aggressive and inflict pressure when we can. Our goal right now is to win both the games against India,” Rey said.

Amit Rohidas, who has been designated as captain of the Indian team for the games against Argentina, said they are well prepared and have learned from the mistakes they made against Spain.

“We have analysed the errors that we made in the previous game against Spain, and we have trained and planned accordingly. We have had discussions within our leadership group about the areas we need to improve upon. We have worked on those areas and we are confident we will put up a good showing,” Rohidas said at the pre-match virtual press conference.

Besides beating Argentina in the Tokyo Olympic Games group stage, India had played the South Americans in the 2020-21 FIH Hockey Pro League and won both the away matches.

The Indian Captain explained how the experience of playing against the opposition last year will help the team this time around.

“We have seen videos of our matches against Argentina and we have planned accordingly. They have been in good form this season. So, we have been in constant discussion on what strategies we have to create to stop their attacking set-ups. Our focus and our practice sessions have been designed keeping the same in mind. We hope to stick to our plans and be successful in implementing the same,” Rohidas said.

The Indians will be hoping to win the two matches on Saturday and Sunday so that they can move closer to table-toppers the Netherlands in the Pro League Standings.

India have a slight edge in head-to-head as they have won 14 matches and lost 12, with four matches ending in draws. But Argentina have always been a tricky customer, even in away conditions. And it will not be much different this weekend despite the advantage the hosts have in terms of weather conditions and experience.

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