'Sydney disaster was saddest day of my life'

He was a part of the Indian hockey team that narrowly missed out on a semifinal place in 2000 Olympics, and 12 years down the line Mohammed Riaz says the Sydney Games will remain his biggest regret in life.

“It was a case of so near yet so far. We were leading till few minutes before the final whistle of the match (against Poland) which ended in a draw.

“If only we had beaten Poland, we would have made it to the semifinals. That would have been a game changing scenario for Indian hockey,” Riaz said in an interaction in the Games Village.

“That was saddest day of my life,” he added.

In the men’s hockey competition of Sydney Olympics, India, who had lost to Korea in the group stages, were all but through to the last-four stage going into their last pool match against Poland.

Against Poland, India were leading 1-0 and looked certain to win the game. But Poland equalised a minute from the hooter to dash Indian hopes as the eight-time champions finished on par with Korea on points and the tie was broken on the basis of the result between the two teams.

About the state of the game in the country, Riaz believes that hockey is part of Indian folklore and that is why it evokes such a strong passion and sentiment.

“I don’t accept this view that hockey is on the decline in India,” said the Chennai-based two-time Olympian, who is here with the Indian hockey team as one of the coaches.
“Yes, we have not lived up to the expectations which millions of hockey lovers expect from us because we were eight-time Olympic champions,” Riaz said.

A fine utility player, Riaz, represented India for a decade. He played in two World Cups (1994, 1998) and as many Olympics (1996, 2000) and Asian Games (1994, 1998).

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