Revelry as India in Olympic race, hard road ahead

Revelry as India in Olympic race, hard road ahead

 It was celebration time in India with the men's hockey team back in the Olympics after eight years. The only person who is thinking of the road ahead than Sunday night's revelry at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium was coach Michael Nobbs.

Nobbs is aware of the competition India is going to be confronted with at the London Olympics this summer. Beating teams like Canada, Poland and France is okay, but one look at the line-up in London can make anyone sit up and worry about the preparation in the coming months.

Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Pakistan, Argentina, New Zealand, and hosts Britain have already made it to London. India have joined them and two more qualifiers will be added to the list in the next two months. The next qualifier is in Dublin from March 10-18 and the third one at Kakamigahara, Japan, from April 26-May 6.

From Dublin, Korea should qualify on the strength of their World No 6 ranking and they will be challenged by Malaysia, and from the Japan leg, China, Japan and South Africa should be fighting it out.

Imagine the kind of competition India will be facing in London. At no Olympics in the last three decades did the Indian team figure among the semifinalists. The apologists may argue that they missed out narrowly a couple of times and once they did not make the last four stage, there was hardly any interest left in playing the classification matches.

Nobbs has done enough to motivate the players in the run up to London, though he hardly had six months or so to do it. He has another five months to make them good enough to be in the big league.

Australian Nobbs, unlike his European predecessors, did not try and tinker too much with Indians' style of play. His philosophy was quite different from the Europeans.
The Europeans drilled into the players' minds that they should first stop the hard-running Europeans from scoring and then try and squeeze in goals. They also thought the Indians could be made to run like the Europeans but that did not work all that satisfactorily.

Nobbs allowed the players to exhibit their skills and at the same time made them understand that attack is the best part of defence. Also, forcing penalty-corners is not enough if you cannot convert them. If Sandeep Singh is the qualifiers' top scorer with 19 goals from six matches, it tells its own story.

Roping in former India captain and one of the game's best defenders Dilip Tirkey to get the defenders hone their skills was big plus. Sandeep is now a better tackler than he was a couple of years ago. And he is no longer predictable in drag-flicking. He is able to choose his angles to bamboozle the defenders.

The defence still made a couple of mistakes to let in a couple of goals in the tournament but that can be understandable. Once the defenders looked secure, the half-line pushed ahead to keep the forwards on the prowl.

All in all, it was a decent showing and the team can take heart from the fact that their recent showing against Pakistan, Korea and Germany and Britain has been quite heartening and that's a good peg for Nobbs to work on.