Versatile Indians impress Nobbs

Versatile Indians impress Nobbs

Aussie admits defence needs to tighten up

Having achieved his first goal of qualifying for the Olympics in splendid style, Indian hockey coach Michael Nobbs expressed satisfaction but felt the team needed to become more versatile, an aspect that will come under sharp focus on the road to London.

“If you have noticed, versatility is what brought us success in the Olympic Qualifiers last month,” Nobbs told reporters here at the SAI South Centre on Monday. “We had players who could play right-half, centre-forward and left-half. It’s not easy to do and the younger players like Manpreet Singh, Danish Mujtaba and Birendra Lakra were very good in doing so.

“In the final against France, we changed the pattern intially to create room for passing.

Sardar Singh was pulled back from central midfield and we pushed Sandeep Singh upfront in order to create some space on the right. We kept doing things like that throughout the tournament that brought us a lot of success. That is what we are working on and we need to improve upon.”

The main squad will arrive here on March 15 for a 20-25 day long camp before travelling to Pakistan -- subject to Government approval -- for a four-nation tournament from April 9-13. Nobbs said the camp would be more fitness based than skill oriented as there wasn’t much time before the Olympics.

“It’s more gym, strength, speed and fitness based than pattern play now, rather than focussing on these areas 30 days before the Olympics. If you do the work now, we can maintain and keep it that way.

‘Fitness concerns’

“We won the Olympic Qualifiers final against France 8-1 and I felt we could have got more, say 15 goals, had we concentrated and executed our plans to the hilt. We fluffed a bit because we have still not attained the fitness level I would have liked to, although I’m happy with the progress. At the Qualifiers, we tried to create more penalty corners as some of the teams were defensive. We should have scored more field goals and that is one area we will address in the coming days.”

Barring Sandeep Singh, VR Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh, there are no frontline defenders with adequate international experience, a crack which was papered over temporarily by switching veteran midfielder Igance Tirkey to deep defence in the Qualifiers. Asked if that bothered him, Nobbs said every team faced problems in some department or the other.

“It’s not fair to say that because Gurbaj Singh was not there. He has just returned from injury and the defence will improve. We are an attacking team and strive to score more goals than the opposition.

“I agree our defence does get exposed occasionally, but if look at the statistics, we created a lot of circle penetrations in the Qualifiers. Since we are always on the attack, the goalkeepers hardly got to do anything, which makes them rusty. Dilip (Tirkey) did a brilliant job by sharpening the defenders at the Qualifiers. He has always been on my mind, and I’ve asked him to help me out here too.”

Meanwhile, the junior camp will kick off on March 15 under Baljit Saini, Sandeep Sangwan and Jugraj Singh. The last named will simultaneously work with the senior squad as drag-flick specialist too.

Scheduled tournaments ahead of the Olympics: April 9-13: Four-nation meet in Lahore (subject to Government approval).

May 2-6: Four-nation Olympic Test event in London (Great Britain, Germany and Australia).

May 24-June 3: Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (Development team to play).
July 1-13: Training camp in Santander, Spain.
July 14-18: Four-nation meet in Santander.

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