Expectations High From India's Hockey Teams At 2020 Tokyo Olympics
As the Olympics are fast approaching the Indian Hockey teams are once again being lined up as Medal contenders.
As another Olympics approach, the Indian men's hockey team is again being touted as one of the medal contenders. However, unlike in the past few editions, expectations from Tokyo seem more realistic as the claims are based on the team's high ranking -- India is placed fourth in the FIH rankings list -- and recent good results against some top teams in the FIH Pro League.
Eight-time Olympic gold medallists -- six of them in consecutive Games from 1928 to 1956 -- India also have won a silver medal (1960) and two bronze (1968 & 1972). India last bagged the hockey gold in the boycott-depleted 1980 Olympics Games when they defeated Spain 4-3 in the final.
Since then, the story of Indian hockey has been a saga of unrealistic expectations leading to defeats, disappointment, dejection, and heartbreak followed by a spell of blame game and eventually sackings -- of players and coaches.
Even as the standard of the game in the country nose-dived -- caused mainly by the introduction of the synthetic turf which made the sport physically more demanding and less dependent on skills --the other reasons for India's plummeting fortunes were failure to adapt to the changes, poor planning and execution.
The expectations for the most part remained high even as the team slipped in rankings, failed to get good results in big tournaments, and had to suffer the ignominy of not qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
However, India seems to have recovered lost ground since those days and in the last decade has climbed from 10th in the world rankings to the current fourth position.
The Indian men's team is listed among the four-five teams -- Belgium, Australia, Netherlands, and Germany being the others in the 12-team competition -- that are in contention for a medal.
For years, reaching the knockout stage was the target of the team, but the expectations are high this time around because the selectors have chosen a well-balanced side that has 10 players who will be making their Olympics debut.
Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, Manpreet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinderpal Singh, Birendra Lakra will don the leadership role as experienced players.
India are in Group A with Rio champions Argentina, world No. 1 Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Asian Games champions Japan. Group B comprises reigning world champions Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Canada and South Africa. Four teams from each group will make it to the knockout quarterfinals.
The Indian team's Australian chief coach Graham Reid is aware of the expectations and is hopeful of ending the four-decade-long drought.
"What we've been talking to the players a lot about is that if you look at the 12 teams that are going to the Olympics. In the last two years we've played and beaten all 12 except for Canada… we haven't had a chance to play Canada
"I think that's a really important point to note. If we play well, if we do our things and we are aiming to jump onto that podium," he said.
"You have to take time, one game at a time when we're trying to get through to the quarterfinals...To be in that final game at the end of the tournament is what everyone's trying to do. That's no different to us," Reid said.
The women's team, led by Rani Rampal, has qualified for their second successive Olympics by prevailing over the USA in the qualifiers. The main target for the team will be to make the knockout stage. However, chief coach Sjoerd Marijne said he would not be much disappointed if the team fails to reach the quarters.
He would be satisfied if the girls put up their best performance as they are in a tough Group A with world No. 1 Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, and South Africa. The other Group includes Argentina, Australia, China, New Zealand, Spain, Japan.
"The expectations in India are very high. If you are realistic, only two countries are lower ranked than us and that's Japan and South Africa. So, I don't know from where these expectations are based on," Marijne said during a virtual media conference.
He, however, expressed confidence that his team will make it to the quarterfinals.
The Indian team has worked hard on its fitness in the lengthy camps because of Covid-19 and Marijne said it will come up with its best performance in Japan.
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