The Indian men's hockey team goalkeeper PR Sreejesh on Wednesday said he is expecting a good challenge from Russia in the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers, despite a vast gap between the two sides in world rankings.
In a favourable draw, the Indian men's team, ranked fifth, was on Monday pitted against world no 22 Russia in the final round of the Tokyo Olympics qualifiers.
India will play back-to-matches against Russia in Bhubaneswar on November 1 and 2 to seal their Tokyo Games berth.
"It is every player's dream to play the Olympics and Russia, who are now investing in hockey and want to do well in this sport, will surely come well-prepared and we can definitely expect a good challenge from them," Sreejesh said.
Eight-time Olympic champions India had mauled Russia 10-0 during the FIH Series Final in Bhubaneswar earlier this year.
Sreejesh said before the draw took place, they were mentally prepared to take on any opponent be it arch-rivals Pakistan or Austria.
"To be honest we had discussed what it would take from the team if we had to play Pakistan or Austria or for that matter Egypt who later dropped out. So in that sense, we were mentally prepared to take on any team. Also I think retaining the world ranking at No.5 was a boon," he said.
Sreejesh said the tour to Belgium starting September 26 will help them prepare for the Olympic qualifiers.
"I think playing world champions Belgium, who have been in great form, will be like a preparatory test before the actual exam," he said.
The 31-year-old revealed that they have been working on strengthening the team's defense amongst other things and will look to execute all the plans against Belgium.
"We have been working on an improved defensive structure, better penalty corner defending and also on scoring opportunities and it will be important to execute this as planned against Belgium," Sreejesh said.
Talking about India's goalkeeping options, he commended his younger compatriots Suraj Karkera and Krishan Bahadur Pathak for a good show in the Olympic Test Event in Tokyo, Japan.
"It's good to see both of them perform well. It is always good to have competition within the team and I am enjoying the role of mentoring them and at the same time improving my own game," he said.
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