New Delhi: The Indian men’s & women’s hockey team and are again being proclaimed as one of the medal contenders. India men’s is placed fourth in the FIH rankings list and recent good results against some top teams in the FIH Pro League.
India’s team are eight-time Olympic gold medallists in Hockey, six of them in consecutive games from 1928 to 1956. India also have won a silver medal (1960) and two bronze (1968 & 1972). India last bagged the hockey gold in the boycott-depleted 1980 Olympics Games when they defeated Spain 4-3 in the final.
The boys are a confident lot despite their campaign being disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which first confined them to the Sports Authority of India centre in Bengaluru and then then disrupted their Pro League campaign.
All athletes and officials will have to be in quarantine for three days upon arrival in Tokyo. Mehta said, “Everyone will have to be in quarantine for three days on reaching there. The day of arrival is called zero-day. After the quarantine, we can go out. The first batch of the Indian contingent for the Olympics will be aired on 14 July by Air India. In which the players and officials will leave by a chartered flight. The rest of the officers will travel between July 16 and 19.
The Indian men’s team is listed among the four-five teams — Belgium, Australia, Netherlands, and Germany being the others in the 12-team competition — that are in contention for a medal.
Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, Manpreet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinderpal Singh, Birendra Lakra will don the leadership role as experienced players.
India are in Group A with Rio champions Argentina, world No. 1 Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Asian Games champions Japan. Group B comprises reigning world champions Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Canada and South Africa. Four teams from each group will make it to the knockout quarterfinals.
The Indian team’s Australian chief coach Graham Reid is aware of the expectations and is hopeful of ending the four-decade-long drought. “What we’ve been talking to the players a lot about is that if you look at the 12 teams that are going to the Olympics. In the last two years we’ve played and beaten all 12 except for Canada… we haven’t had a chance to play Canada “I think that’s a really important point to note. If we play well if we do our things and we are aiming to jump onto that podium. You have to take time, one game at a time when we’re trying to get through to the quarterfinals…To be in that final game at the end of the tournament is what everyone’s trying to do. That’s no different to us,” Reid said.
The women’s team, led by Rani Rampal, has qualified for their second successive Olympics by prevailing over the USA in the qualifiers. The main target for the team will be to make the knockout stage. However, chief coach Sjoerd Marijne said he would not be much disappointed if the team fails to reach the quarters.
The girls put up their best performance as they are in a tough Group A with world No. 1 Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, and South Africa. The other Group includes Argentina, Australia, China, New Zealand, Spain, Japan. “The expectations in India are very high. If you are realistic, only two countries are lower ranked than us and that’s Japan and South Africa. So, I don’t know from where these expectations are based on,” Marijne said during a virtual media conference.
He, however, expressed confidence that his team will make it to the quarterfinals.
The Indian team has worked hard on its fitness in the lengthy camps because of Covid-19 and Marijne said it will come up with its best performance in Japan.