A top-four finish in the Olympics would be a “miracle” for the Indian men’s hockey team but a favourable outing in their Games opener against the mighty Netherlands on July 30 would act as a huge “confidence booster” for the eight-time champions, feel former players.
Former captain Zafar Iqbal was impressed with the improvement Indian hockey has made under Micheal Nobbs but feels it would be too premature to expect a podium finish in London.
“I don’t have high hopes of a medal, but we should at least play better hockey. We suddenly can’t expect to jump to the top league from number 10 position. If anything of this sort happens it would be a miracle,” Zafar told PTI.
“The start will be important for us. The Netherlands has always been a strong team. So if we manage to pull off a draw, it would boost our confidence for the remaining matches,” said the former centre forward, who was a member of India’s 1980 team that won the last Olympic gold medal in Moscow.
“A place in the semi-finals would be a dream result for India but our first aim should be to finish at least third in the group,” he added.
Zafar also said that going into the Games Indians are on a par with the top teams in some areas but also have many grey areas to counter.
“In terms of ability in specific areas we are equally good like other teams. But we have many weaknesses. The defence is our major weak link,” Zafar observed.
Zafar’s views were supported by another former India captain Pargat Singh, who said that the Indian hockey fans should not expect any extraordinary result from Bharat Chetri’s men at the London Games.
“The fact that we are back in the Olympics (after missing 2008 Beijing Games) is a huge thing for Indian hockey. We are slowly coming into the groove but we still have miles to go to match top teams like Australia, Germany and the Netherlands,” he said.
“So, we should not hope for anything big. Our aim should be to play good hockey and give a tough fight to the top teams. Irrespective of the outcome, in every game we should play in such a way that we can leave the pitch with our heads high,” added Pargat, who captained India in two Olympics -- 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta.
Pargat too felt that the opening game will decide India’s fate in the quadrennial extravaganza.
“The match against the Netherlands is a big one. A draw would be a great result for us. But we shouldn’t lose the match by a big margin. If that happens it will hamper our confidence.”