Singapore have eye on the future

We are here to learn and improve, says coach Solomon Casoojee

The Singapore national hockey team had the shock of their lives when they were extended an invite by the International Hockey Federation to participate in the Olympic qualifiers scheduled to kick-start here on Saturday.

Now, they want to make the best use of the precious opportunity, with coach Solomon Yusef Casoojee hoping the event will go a long way in shaping the team for the future.

“When we got a call from the FIH, we just couldn’t believe it,” said South African Casoojee after a training session here at the Major Dhyan Chand National stadium on Thursday.

Singapore got the invite from the world body after the United States pulled out of the event at the last moment.

“We didn’t even know that the United States had pulled out; and we had to pinch ourselves as there are so many countries better than us,” said Casoojee.

“Once we decided to honour the invitation, the next big task was to form a team. Most of the players in the squad -- 12 out of 19 -- are under 21 years of age and it’s examination time in Singapore. Most of the parents were reluctant to send their kids as there is very little chance in hell we would win the trip to London.

“There’s India -- the once super powers and current favourites -- Canada and Poland. Their take is why waste time and resources when it is better off for the kids to study and excel. I had to do a lot of convincing and I’m happy they obliged,” added the 38-year-old who took charge of the team a year ago after having previously worked as an assistant coach with the South African women’s team from 1999-2002.

A dream

Although Singapore -- whose hockey team last qualified for the Olympics five decades ago -- might be living a dream, it could probably soon turn into a nightmare when they kick-off their campaign against India on Saturday. With the host nation determined for a perfect take-off, Singaporeans, ranked 41, could provide the ideal fodder.

“See, you know what the result will be. As I said earlier, there is very little chance of us beating India. If it does happen, then it’s a miracle which I am praying for. This tournament is basically a learning experience. We are building a team for the future and I am positive in the years to come, we will improve. I’ve just told the boys to go out there and give their best shot without an eye on the results,” remarked Casoojee, who took up coaching as a career at 18.

Felix impact

Former India captain Jude Felix spent the better part of the last 10 years in Singapore, working with the Singapore Recreation Club as a coach and manager and Casoojee paid tributes to the dynamic midfielder for changing the hockey scenario in the country.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, he is one of the best players ever. Personally, I’ve not had many interactions with him as I was in Australia during that time, but he is very instrumental in shaping Singapore hockey.

“Most of the players in the current team are from SRC and they simply adore him. It has become a talent pool from where we pick our players. We need more people like him to lift our standards.”

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