From head coach Terry Walsh to officials, everyone might have written off India’s chances of a podium finish at the upcoming Hockey World Cup, but high performance director Roelant Oltmans feels they can spring a surprise provided they check their perennial problem of conceding late goals.

While Hockey India and Walsh are not aiming higher than a top-eight finish in the mega event beginning in the Hague, Netherlands from May 31, renowned Dutch coach Oltmans says India are capable of producing an unexpected result.

“If we are able to make sure we don’t crack in the final phase of the game and score goals rather than conceding like we have done in the past, we are capable of springing a surprise. The boys have worked really hard on the game, especially on their fitness,” Oltmans, who coached The Netherlands to an Olympic and World Cup title, told PTI.

He, however, defended Walsh amongst others for not aiming higher in the competition where India finished eighth out of 12 teams in 2010.

“There is no point saying right away that we are going to reach the semifinals. If we lose the first two games, then the whole script goes awry.

“To be honest, it is very difficult to make any prediction, so let’s take it game by game. It depends on how the tournament develops. Momentum is important, especially in a tough group like ours. Even for 7—8 finish, we would need to beat at least two good teams,” said Oltmans.

India, ranked eighth, are in Group A with the likes of Australia (World No.1), Spain (10), Belgium (5), England (4) and Malaysia (13).

The team of late has been working on improving their technical skills such as shortening the swing of the stick to meet one of the demands of fast paced modern hockey.

Asked about his assessment of the boys, Oltmans said: “Indians are skillful and are very good with the stick work but they lag behind in planning and execution. For starters, you have to be more creative in the D and be ready for the chances you may get. You can’t rely much on scoring through penalty corners. I am confident the boys will show improvement in all these areas in Holland.”

Being the interim coach earlier and in a managerial role now, Oltmans has spent a fair amount of time in India scouting talent.

“For long term, infrastructure is very important, so as the coach and talent development. We need to work on these areas extensively to get to a decent level in international hockey.”

He further explained: “Holland has 900 astro-turfs and we have about 50 good ones here. In a country as big as India, we need at least 500 to make the sport more accessible.”

Oltmans, who is looking forward to spending time in his native Netherlands during World Cup, describes his stint in India as the biggest challenge of his career.

“I have said before as well that the system here works differently than in other countries. You need to accept that but still you need to bring in slight changes. I know it takes time to get things done here but you try working on certain issues and then see what is in the interest of the game,” concluded the coach, who is “committed” to Indian hockey at least till the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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