Hockey Olympic qualifiers: Indian men draw Russia, women to face U.S.

Hockey India

The Indian men's hockey team have drawn Russia as their opponent for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics hockey qualifiers, scheduled to be held as a two-match series between October 27 and November 3. The Indian women, on the other hand, will have a tougher challenge to make it to Tokyo, as they were pitted to face U.S.

Both the men's and women's team will play their qualifiers at home, in Bhubaneswar, on November 1 and 2. The draw for the two-legged qualifiers was held in Lausanne, Switzerland on Monday.

In the latest International Hockey Federation (FIH) rankings, the Indian men's team have retained fifth position, while the women have risen one place to ninth. The rankings were updated following the conclusion of all the continental championships on Sunday with the Oceania Cup in Rockhampton, Australia, where the Australian men and New Zealand women emerged victorious.

The rankings took into account the Indian men finishing with bronze at the 2018 Asian Games, where the women's team won silver behind Japan. Argentina and South Africa won the continental qualification for both men's and women's hockey through the Pan-American Games and the African qualifiers, while the Belgian men and Netherlands women won the European Championships.

Russia -- who entered the qualifiers only on Sunday as a late replacement for Egypt -- have never qualified for the Olympics, though the erstwhile Soviet Union did win bronze at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. They are currently ranked 22nd in the world, one place up from the previous world ranking of theirs of 23rd.

The women's road to successive appearances at the Olympics could be considerably tougher. The 13th-ranked U.S. have made six appearances at the Olympics since 1984, and they also beat India 3-0 in the pool stages in Rio in 2016. Though India exacted some revenge by eliminating U.S. from the group stages of the World Cup in London in 2018, what would also be interesting to see is how the young women's team responds to the occasion of playng a big match at home -- Rani Rampal's team haven't played any competitive senior level game in India since winning the FIH World League Round 2 in 2015, beating Poland in the final in New Delhi.

India ensured their place in the Olympic qualifiers earlier this year by winning their respective Series Finals events, with the men beating South Africa in Bhubaneswar to the title, and the women winning their tournament by beating hosts Japan in the final in Hiroshima. Incidentally, India had met Russia in the pool stages of the Series Finals, and beaten them 10-0.