'Wanted to prove a point'
Raghunath says the team was highly motivated
Following the London Olympics debacle not many would have pinned their hopes on the country’s hockey team at the FIH Champions Trophy but they surprised everyone with a fourth-place finish, which vice-captain VR Raghunath attributed to team work and a change in attitude.
“It’s a great performance considering we had fallen flat three months ago,” Raghunath told Deccan Herald after touching base in New Delhi on Monday. “What we couldn’t accomplish in London, we were able to do in Melbourne and with a young and inexperienced side.
“Before leaving for Australia, we were mentally motivated. We knew Champions Trophy was going to be biggest challenge as another failure would have deepened the wounds further. We wanted to show we too can fight and compete against the best in the world.
“Players like Sardar (Singh), Manpreet (Singh) and (SV) Sunil were injured but they still carried on gamely. We were a determined lot. At the Olympics we lost to the same teams, but here we could beat them.”
When asked what sparked the turnaround in just three months, Raghunath complemented captain and star midfielder Sardar’s pep talk. “He played a huge role on and off the field. He kept reminding us before every match on the importance of success.
He kept pushing us and inspired us a lot. Very importantly, the young squad soaked
every bit of it and were keen to showcase their skills. At the end team work paid off.”
One of India’s biggest headaches is the defence that has resulted in many defeats in the past. However, this time, the full-backs held fort pretty well, especially during high-pressure games like the quarterfinal against Belgium where India scraped home 1-0. Efforts of Raghunath and Rupinderpal Singh at the back as well solid goalkeeping from debutante PT Rao drew special praise from coach Michael Nobbs.
“I think, this time we trapped the ball well. Even during penalty corners, we defended strongly and didn’t allow much to creep through. It was sad that (PR) Sreejesh got injured but (PT) Rao grabbed his opportunity with both hands. He produced some inspiring saves and it gave us -- defenders -- a lot of confidence. Of course, we have work to do, but we are getting there.”
The next challenge for the Indian team would be the Asian Champions Trophy, to be held in Doha from Dec 20-27. The Indians are the defending champions.