The Olympic Hockey qualifiers concluded a few days ago, and both the Indian men’s and women’s teams punched their tickets to Tokyo. While the men eventually came through quite easily, the women went on an incredibly wild roller-coaster ride against USA before eventually clinching their spot.
The focus now moves to the Olympics itself. There will be 12 men and 12 women teams competing in Tokyo. Both tournaments will see 2 pools of 6 teams, with 4 teams from each pool advancing to the quarter-finals.
But how will the pools shape up? And how will the schedule look like?
The FIH recently put up an interview on its website with its CEO, Thierry Weil, which states that the pools and the entire schedule for Tokyo 2020 will be announced by mid-December.
The same interview also states that the pools will be based on World Rankings, and will follow the same snake draft system as was followed for the Rio Olympics.
The current World Rankings for men and women are also available on the FIH site. These rankings are expected to stay the same till January. This is because no World Ranking points were allocated for the just-concluded Olympic qualifiers, and there are no tournaments scheduled which would affect the rankings.
Thus, the pools for Tokyo will be formed according to the current World Rankings and can be deduced as follows:
Men’s Draw with world rankings:
|POOL A||POOL B|
|Australia (1)||Belgium (2)|
|Argentina (4)||Netherlands (3)|
|India (5)||Germany (6)|
|Spain (8)||Great Britain (7)|
|New Zealand (9)||Canada (10)|
|Japan (15)||South Africa (14)|
Women’s Draw with world rankings:
|Pool A||Pool B|
|Netherlands (1)||Australia (2)|
|Germany (4)||Argentina (3)|
|Great Britain (5)||New Zealand (6)|
|Ireland (8)||Spain (7)|
|India (9)||China (10)|
|South Africa (16)||Japan (14)|
Pool Analysis – Men
On the men’s side, India would be reasonably happy with their pool. The big European powerhouses – Netherlands, Germany and, now, Belgium – are all slated to be in the other pool while the only team in India’s pool that seems to “scare” fans (and may be even players) before even stepping onto the pitch is Australia.
Even against Argentina, we have a pretty good record with India being the only team to beat them at Rio 2016, before they went on to become the Olympic champions. Spain has also been on a bit of a downswing, barely surviving their Olympic qualifier against France.
The downside of India’s pool though is that there is no “easy” team. New Zealand can beat anyone on their day and seem much stronger than, say, Canada (even though Canada has been a bit of a bogey team for India in the past). And Japan will have home advantage, and are the reigning Asian Games Champions, even though India thrashed them 8-0 in the pool stage in Jakarta and then again 7-2 at the FIH Series Finals.
So, if things go well, India might even finish as high as 2nd in their pool. And as long as we don’t falter against New Zealand or have a disaster against Japan (which, has to be said, is always a distinct possibility in Indian hockey), the quarter-finals will be within sight.
Pool Analysis – Women
The women, unfortunately, are likely to be up against it. Netherlands, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Great Britain will all start strong favourites against India while the Asian teams – China and Japan – against whose style India generally do well are both slated to be in the other pool. India will, however, be expected to get the win against South Africa, who look like the clear weakest team in Tokyo.
So, it is likely to all come down to the match between Ireland and India. Ireland, of course, emerged as a formidable team at the 2018 World Cup, topping their group and eventually going on to finish runners-up. En route, Ireland defeated India twice but both were narrow wins, 1-0 in the pool stage and then a shoot-out win in the quarter-finals.
So, to make the quarter-finals, India will need to pull out all the stops against Ireland, while also hoping that Ireland is not able to eke out more points than India against the top teams.
The FIH has a document on its website which lays out all its competition policies and procedures. This document specifies the entire order of matches to be played in any tournament conducted by the FIH. For example, the document states that in a tournament with 6-team pools, the top-seeded team in a pool will play the 6th seeded team in their first match and will play the 4th seeded team in their last match. Thus, using the information in this document, India’s entire order of matches in Tokyo can be determined.
Further, the same document also specifies that in FIH tournaments, every team can play a maximum of only 2 matches on any 3 consecutive days and there needs to be a minimum gap of 20 hours (ideally, 22 hours) between two matches of the same team.
In addition, the document also states that teams should not be playing their pool matches at identical hours too often. In Tokyo, with heat concerns, this takes even more priority as the FIH would not want to disadvantage any team by scheduling all their matches in the morning heat.
Then there are commercial considerations. For example, with Japan being the hosts and India being the biggest television market for hockey, and also considering the time zones, the India vs Japan match would be expected to be scheduled in a marquee evening slot, ideally on a weekend.
So, when all of the above factors are combined with the skeleton hockey schedule already available on the Tokyo 2020 official site, a reasonable prediction for India’s entire schedule in Tokyo can be made as follows.
|Jul 25, 2020||Evening||India v Spain|
|Jul 26, 2020||Evening||India v Japan|
|Jul 28, 2020||Morning||India v Australia|
|Jul 29, 2020||Evening||India v New Zealand|
|Jul 31, 2020||Morning||India v Argentina|
|Aug 2, 2020||Quarter-finals|
|Aug 4, 2020||Semi-finals|
|Aug 6, 2020||Morning||Bronze Medal Match|
|Aug 6, 2020||Evening||Final|
|Jul 26, 2020||Morning||India v Germany|
|Jul 27, 2020||Evening||India v Netherlands|
|Jul 29, 2020||Morning||India v Ireland|
|Jul 30, 2020||Evening||India v England|
|Aug 1, 2020||Evening||India v South Africa|
|Aug 3, 2020||Quarter-finals|
|Aug 5, 2020||Semi-finals|
|Aug 7, 2020||Morning||Bronze Medal Match|
|Aug 7, 2020||Evening||Final|
Once again, while the men’ schedule seems to be well balanced, the women will be treated to a baptism by fire, having to take on Germany and the Netherlands in their first 2 matches. And then they will have to pick themselves right back up for the critical Ireland match. Hopefully, they’ll be up to it.