Hockey

‘A top-four finish would be ambitious’

Ajit Pal Singh.

Ajit Pal Singh.   | Photo Credit: S_Subramanium

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The Rio Olympics would be a big test for the Indian hockey teams but I can see the progress in the men’s side in recent times and am hopeful. The men have come up really well in the past few years and I can see them being strong challengers at Rio.

For the women, participation itself should be a great motivator. There is a vast gulf in the class of teams there and Indian women would surely go as minnows. But the hopes are all from the men.

The team’s manning of the defence has improved a lot. The overall performance of the side has also been heartening recently. The recent Champions Trophy in London was a great outing for the side. We could see that the team was not just getting lucky. The boys were playing very well, they beat some very good teams to deservedly reach the final and finish second. It was a remarkable tournament and we witnessed the development of the team.

But we need to hold our horses still. Personally, I feel that Australia continues to be the fittest, strongest, toughest side by far in the world at the moment. If we compare the Indian men’s team to the top sides in the world, we are still lagging, in my opinion. Not just Australia — the other top European teams in the world at the moment are also ahead of us. Defending champion Germany, silver medallist Netherlands, even Great Britain are all capable of being there on the podium at Rio.

As for India’s chances, I believe a top-four finish would be an ambitious expectation from the team. It is not impossible, nothing is impossible really at the Olympics, but it will be very tough. Finishing in the 5-8 bracket is definitely a possibility and a 5-6 place would be a good result. If the team does make it to the top four, personally, I would consider that as good as winning a medal.

Among other sides, as I said, my bet would be on Australia. But we shouldn’t forget that the European sides raise their standards whenever required. As such their performance at Rio would be vastly different from the Champions Trophy or any other competition and any team is capable of winning on its day. Belgium and Argentina are good too and the former will be a serious contender for a top-four spot. Argentina’s defence has always been tough but now they have begun scoring also, which makes them tricky.

I seriously believe that the recent change in captaincy should not affect the team. Playing for the country at the Olympics in itself is a great honour. For example, Harmeek Singh was captain of the side at the 1972 Olympics, I captained the team in 1973 but when the 1976 Olympics came, M.P. Ganesh was named skipper and we both gave our best under him.

I would advice the team to not even bother about such petty issues, wish them good luck and hope they do really well.

(As told to Uthra Ganesan)

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 3:07:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/hockey/%E2%80%98A-top-four-finish-would-be-ambitious%E2%80%99/article14506241.ece

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