India’s disastrous hockey campaign in the London Games ended with a humiliating bottom spot finish out of 12 competing nations, and it prompted a dejected skipper Bharat Chetri to say that the former champions were not good enough to play at a big stage like the Olympics.
“We thought we could do well here, but the team was not good enough for a top-class event like the Olympic Games,” said Chetri after India lost 2-3 to South Africa in the 11-12th place classification match at the Riverbank Arena in London on Saturday.
The India-South Africa match-up was between the last placed teams in the two preliminary groups.
India had lost all their five pool matches and today’s loss to South Africa completed the most miserable show at the Olympics for the eight-time gold medallists, who in 2008 had failed to qualify for the Beijing Games.
India were placed 10th in the world rankings ahead of the Olympic Games.
The Indian team got the bronze medal at the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia two months ago, but Chetri said experience was key to success in a top-notch event like the Olympic Games.
“We need to be better prepared for such events, where experience seems to matter a lot more than we thought,” said the Indian custodian who did not play today.
“Though we thought ourselves to be a good team, we failed to justify the expectations,” he said.
“What we saw and learnt here was quite different from the past tournaments in which we had participated,” Chetri added.
Vice-captain Sardar Singh, who emerged as India’s best player in the disastrous campaign, said numerous missed chances in every game hurt the team badly.
“We kept on making the same mistakes all the time,” Sardar said.
“We have to be aggressive, we need to be tough in the circle and we have to improve a lot.”
India’s poor marksmanship and easy squandering of ball inside the striking circle caused most of their woes.
The disastrous Indian campaign finished with an all-loss record from six matches and today they were always chasing the South African side after Andrew Cronje opened the scoring in the eighth minute.
India equalised through Sandeep Singh in the 14th minute before Timothy Drummond gave South Africa a 2-1 lead at half-time through his 34th minute strike.
Lloyd Norris-Jones increased the lead in the 66th minute before India pulled one back a minute later through Dharamvir Singh.
“It was emotionally tough to concede the second goal. The whole team has been mentally affected,” Sardar said.
“It is a very bad feeling to have played six games and lost them all,” he added.
Like India, South Africa had also not won a match before this game, although they had gained one point from a draw in the preliminary league matches.
“It’s great to finally get a victory, and we’re just glad to finish off strong,” said Cronje, the first South African goal-scorer on Saturday.
His teammate Jonathan Robinson added, “It was great to get a result and leave on a high. It was a hard school, the team has learnt some tough lessons, but the team has developed.
“It has been an awesome tournament. Everything about the Olympics is awesome.”