The country is looking up to hockey chief coach Michael Nobbs to deliver in the Olympic Games. The Australian coach has pegged expectations to a top-six finish in London, but the question is can India do it? Or perhaps even better than that?
Excerpts from a recent interview:
Q: How do you think the Olympic preparations have gone so far?
A: Pretty well. It’s been tough for the boys, the high altitude training, trying to improve physical fitness again after a break. It’s very hard training because we’re looking to fix up the hiccups, the way we play, concentrating on improving in essential areas.
Q: How much of an improvement has been there since you started post-qualifiers?
A: It is a work in process. I’m happy with the team. The boys have shown fantastic improvement in most areas. The fitness levels and skills have shown an upward graph and we’re continuing to improve as we gear up for the Olympics.
Q: Recent showing in London and Ipoh suggest the team has the ability to take on better-rated teams, and yet the eventual result remains the same?
A: We’re not far off. The aim is to be there. No doubt it will take some more time when you are playing the best teams in the world. I’m pleased with the progress. The only difference between us and them is they win consistently. We’ve the ability to knock them and I’m sure we’ll knock them at some stage. Time factor is important when you’re looking to climb the ladder from the bottom. But I know we’ll get there.
Q: Which are the areas that are causing concern for you?
A: The main concern is opponents scoring goals. We’re not utilising our chances. We fail in the initial stages. We’re not getting shots at the goals, not getting many penalty corners but things are changing. We need to have more circle penetrations and have been wasting scoring chances. At Ipoh (Azlan Shah Cup) we entered the circle 46 times but still lost to Argentina. We’ve been conceding too many goals but then we’re not the only ones to do that. We’ve the world’s best drag-flicker (Sandeep Singh) and should do well with more penalty corners.
Q: Has the team adjusted itself to the new blue turf?
A: Yes and no. It takes time to adjust to a change. The blue turf (at Ipoh) was nice even though slow. But the one in London is brand new, slippery. It’ll be different from the one we played at Ipoh. Initially, I had thought the blue turf could have created major problems but the boys did their best to adjust. Thank God we didn’t send an ‘A’ team to Ipoh.
Q: Are you happy with the composition of the team?
A: It is the best possible combination you can think of. Honestly, It’s a good team and has bonded well like a family.
Q: Has the team lacked anything in this run-up to the Games?
A: Probably the team has not had enough matches in its preparations. I would’ve loved more matches on the blue turf. Otherwise, it has been near-perfect.
Q: Are you still aiming for the top-six slot in Olympics which you had talked of earlier, or have you pegged your expectations higher?
A: It’ll be great to finish in the top six. Of course, the team will try and do its best to finish better. We are up against the top 12 teams on the planet and it’s not going to be a normal competition because all teams would come with the same goal.
Q: In your rating which team looks the best equipped to win the Olympic gold?
A: I’ve been saying this consistently. Australia should win the gold and the rest should compete for the silver and bronze.