Indian hockey coach Jose Brasa’s mantra to his wards is to treat their World Cup opener against Pakistan as just another game without getting swayed by emotions.
The Spaniard, who took over as chief coach of the national team in May, says he is looking at the larger picture — future of Indian hockey — and the team should see the World Cup in that backdrop.
Brasa, at his first media interaction since getting gagged in the wake of the controversy over players’ payments and the captaincy row, spoke at length on the team’s preparation and his expectations from it.
A semifinal finish is what Brasa said the team is aiming to achieve, but for that they should have the right start.
Asked how much the controversies surrounding Indian hockey will have a bearing on the tournament, the chief coach said: “The past is irrelevant now, we have to focus only the matches.”
“The players have overcome many hurdles and they will continue to do that.”
Brasa’s toughest test is on the opening day of the tournament when India will be involved in a high intensity clash with Pakistan on Sunday.
“I know you all in the media want India to win at home, but the players should stay calm and focussed as they should not take any undue pressure.”
“In our last encounter with Pakistan at Salta, Argentina, the players got excited on the field and played as if they wanted to finish the game early. There went all out attacking. They should take Sunday’s match as another game. After all, it is just a sport. Hopefully, they have learnt the lesson and plan it better this time.”
Brasa said the team has improved tremendously in the past one year, and the two warm-up matches have shown that they are on the right path.
“Now the players can last the full 70 minutes, unlike a year or so ago.”
“There have been many other positive changes in the team. The physical fitness of the players has improved and now they can carry out any strategic plan. The man-to-man marking has improved and there is perceptible change in our mode of attack, using the width of the turf in concerted moves.”
Brasa has, in particular, chose to mention Sandeep Singh’s name, saying the drag-flicker will be the pivotal player in the team’s scheme of things.
“Drag-flickers are going to play a crucial role and precisely for that reason we have three in our ranks with Sandeep being the best in business.”
On the lack of international match play before the World Cup, Brasa said: “Yes, while other teams had planned it better, we had to make do with two warm-up matches.”
One thing is for sure, Brasa said, the players’ determination and dedication cannot be questioned.
“They are a talented bunch and they feel for their country. All they need is to perform consistently and the results will take care of themselves.”
Brasa considers his own stint with the Indian team as a learning experience as it is not easy to adjust to the new environment so easily.
“It has been a learning experience for me as well. I have also improved my hockey knowledge working with these motivated young men.”