Rio dreams should fuel charge

Gold at Incheon will open an important avenue for the Indians

Rio dreams should fuel charge

When the Indian men’s hockey team hits the turf at Incheon, they will have two major incentives to play for. While winning the gold would not only provide the elixir the ailing national sport has been craving for a very long time, success will also seal their trip to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Whenever the stakes have been high, the Indian team has generally crumbled and it remains to be seen whether they can banish the ghosts of the past and finally rise against the odds at the Seonhak Hockey Stadium.

Bronze medallists at the last edition in Guangzhou, India have been grouped along with arch-rivals Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Oman and China.

While qualification from the group phase to the semifinals is a certainty with the match against Pakistan expected to decide the top two spots, things could very well get tricky in the knock-outs.

In the semifinals where one mistake could prove the difference between the colour of the medal that may adorn their necks, India may run into Korea or Malaysia. The Koreans can be a formidable opposition while the Malaysians, despite their lacklustre performances in recent times, can be tricky rivals.

It was Malaysia who beat India 4-3 in the semifinals last time at Guangzhou and with the Indians prone to suffering late slippages, a medal is by no means a guarantee.
Having said that, the selectors have retained the same team that won a silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, hoping they will go the distance under the guidance of Terry Walsh. Although far from being a top-class side, they did give a good account of themselves in Scotland and at the World Cup in May. Only if they can tighten their defence -- their perennial weakness -- they have the talent to go the distance. The team will also have to cope with the rule changes the world body FIH has brought in to help make the game faster. Two game has been split into four quarters of 15-minute duration with 40-second time-outs taken when a penalty corner is awarded and after a goal is scored.

Although they’ve played in a similar format at the Hockey India League, they’re yet to be tested in the international arena and the massive change is definite to have a bearing on how all the teams approach a match. During many of India’s losses, especially ones in which they’ve conceded goals in the dying moments to snatch defeat from the hands of victory, the joke has been that the game should have been stopped at 60 minutes. That will be the case now, and how well they embrace the shorter and perceived faster format will be answered over the next three weeks.
The Road to Rio starts now for the hockey team, and one hopes their first step itself is a success.

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