'Opening match will be very crucial'

 Four-time Olympian and former national hockey captain Dhanraj Pillay has termed India’s campaign opener against formidable the Netherlands in the upcoming London Olympics on July 30 as a very crucial encounter.

“I have taken part in four Olympics and we had invariably lost the opening game (barring once). It’s crucial for the Indian team to win the first game,” said the one-time mercurial centre forward at a promotional event here on Wednesday.

India had lost their opening games in three, out of four Olympic Games hockey that Dhanraj had taken part in.

The team had lost 0-3 to eventual gold medal winners Germany in the opening game in 1992 Barcelona Olympics before finishing seventh eventually.

The Indians, similarly, lost their lung-openers against Argentina at Atlanta four years later by a lone goal to finish eighth and the story got repeated in the 2004 Athens Games when they lost 1-3 to Germany before finishing seventh overall.

The only exception to the trend during this period was the 2000 Sydney Games, when they thrashed their nemesis Argentina 3-0 in the opening game before narrowly failing to clinch a semifinal spot and then finally ending up seventh.

In London, the Indian men are placed in Group B along side back-to-back Olympic gold medal winners (1996 and 2000) Holland, Belgium, 1992 and 2008 winners Germany, South Korea and New Zealand.

Dhanraj also felt that the team needs to quickly adjust to the blue and pink turf on offer at the London Games.

“We have probably one blue pitch in Ludhiana. The team needs to get used to playing on the blue surface quickly,” said Dhanraj, adding that he would be pleased with a top-six finish.

“I expect a top-6 finish for the team. I would be very happy if they do so,” said Dhanraj, who also praised India’s chief coach Michael Nobbs for the “very good job he has done over the last one to one-and-half years.”

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