The Indian hockey team, which took the bronze medal at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Malaysia, returned home on Monday night to a warm reception at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport here.
Coach Michael Nobbs, who faces a ‘litmus test' in the July-August London Olympic Games, was cautious in his reaction about the team's mixed performance in Malaysia where it failed to defend its crown. “We need to play more matches against tougher teams,” said Nobbs on arrival.
India's best performance in Ipoh came in the bronze medal play-off when it defeated higher-ranked Britain 3-1, after having been beaten by the latter in the league stage of the tournament.
Some of the other teams in the fray were eventual champion New Zealand, South Korea, Argentina, Pakistan and host Malaysia. However, top outfits like Australia, Germany and the Netherlands did not take part in the tournament.
“I'm obviously very pleased. It's a good win and a medal here is what we were aiming at. We would've loved to win the title, but we have done well to get on the podium,” Nobbs had said at the post-match press conference in Malaysia.
The team will have a two-day selection camp in Pune on June 6 and 7 at the Balewadi Complex and there are some issues that Nobbs and the selectors have to address at the camp, ahead of finalising the 16-member team for the London Games.
Among those are whether the team needs a second goalkeeper — with Bharat Chhetri and P.S. Sreejesh in the running — and whether to include young striker Yuvraj Walmiki in the squad as he has reportedly not fully recovered from his hamstring injury sustained during the Olympic qualifiers in New Delhi in February.
Walmiki had gone to Malaysia as a late replacement for another injured player Gurwinder Singh Chandi.
“I think we are a little short on match practice against really tough teams. I would like to play more against Germany, Holland and Australia. If you want to be the best team at some point of time, you need to play against good teams ,” said Nobbs. He conceded it was going to be a tough task to finalise the team for the Games. “It's going to be really tough. It would be one of the toughest things in my life. Everyone wants to be in the team for London Olympics but we can select only 16,” Nobbs said.
“The next few weeks at the camp will be crucial. We really need to work on our attack. Even against Argentina, we reached the circle so many times but we just blew the chances.
“We got to get better. When you play top teams, you have to learn a little bit of change in style. If you don't hit the ball then you are not going to win,” he said.
He termed the reception at the airport from the fans as a bit ‘crazy'. “It's crazy, but we received the same appreciation after beating arch-rivals Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy and on winning an Olympic berth,” he pointed out. — PTI