The Indian men’s hockey team’s recent performance at the Rio Olympics has rekindled the hope that the current team will be able to bring back the Golden Years that Indian Hockey witnessed from 1928 to 1956.
After missing out on an Olympic spot in Beijing and performing dismally in London, the Indian men’s hockey team redeemed itself by becoming the first to secure a berth to the Rio Olympics. The team has already garnered national attention in the games this year, after its performance against Ireland and defending champion Germany. While it is inevitable that the legacy of India’s eight gold medals in hockey will be invoked if they win a medal, the belief in the team seems to come as much from their current form as it does from their past glory.
What has changed for Indian hockey?
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- Since the disaster at the London Olympics, the Indian men’s hockey team has determinedly moved ahead, despite the ongoing ‘hire and fire’ policy of the coaches.
- The team won the gold at the Asian Games in 2014, which ensured their qualification for the 2016 Olympics. This was followed by a medal at the Commonwealth Games.
- Even more recently, the team clinched the Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy and then followed it up with their first ever medal in the Champions Trophy, a silver, after they lost in the finals to Australia in a shoot-out.
- Though the competition in Rio will be much tougher than it was in the previous tournaments, the new format might just be ideal for India to pull off an array of stunning performances.
- The PR Sreejesh-led team dominated Ireland to get off the mark in the campaign. Even though Ireland put up a valiant effort, India held their own and beat them 3-2.
- In their second game, Germany sneaked past India with just 3.1 seconds left on the clock securing a 2-1 win.
- While conceding goals in the eleventh hour has been a familiar script for India for decades, the team’s valiant effort should not be forgotten.
- Not only did India level five minutes after conceding a goal in the 18th minute, but they also gave the defending champions a run for their money in what was an exhilarating contest.
Why was there a change in captaincy just before the squad left for Rio?
- Less than a month before the Olympics, the Hockey India Federation pulled off a surprising move by announcing PR Sreejesh as the captain of the squad for the Olympics.
- Sreejesh, who helped India clinch their maiden Champions Trophy silver, replaced Sardar Singh, India’s highest capped player and captain of the squad that clinched the silver in the Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy.
- Sardar Singh, who has been having some problems off the field, remains a pivotal player for the squad and much depends on him coming back to form during the tournament. At present, he is regarded as one of the best playmakers in the world.
- While Sreejesh was officially named captain, he won’t be wearing the captain’s armband in any of the games to avoid missing games due to suspension, as he was the only goalkeeper named in the squad.
When are India’s matches scheduled?
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- The 12 qualifiers are divided in to two groups of 6, with the top four teams from each group qualifying for the quarterfinals. India is placed in Group B alongside Argentina, Canada, Germany, Ireland and, the defending champions, Netherlands.
- India commenced their campaign against Ireland on August 6, play Germany on August 8, Argentina on August 9, and Netherlands on August 11 before concluding the group stage against Canada on August 12.
- The team is expected to qualify from this relatively ‘easier’ group.
Where did the team last win a medal at the Olympics?
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- The Indian National Hockey team was the first team outside Europe to be a part of the International Hockey Federation.
- The team has won 8 Gold Medals in the Olympics, including six consecutive medals from 1928 to 1956, an era in which they remained unbeaten in the Olympics.
- But since 1980, where the team last won Gold in a depleted field, the team has seen more lows than highs.
- After finishing a lowly 7th in the games in 2000 and 2004, the team fell to its lowest stand point after they failed to qualify for the Beijing Games and finished in the 12th position at London.
- Their best finish since the 1980 Games has been a fifth place in 1984 in Los Angeles.
Who is Roelant Oltmans?
- Until a year ago, the Hockey India Federation was in tatters after its constant ‘hire and fire’ policy for coaches. But the hiring of Roelant Oltmans, one of the greatest modern day coaches, has brought stability to the team as it goes to Rio as one of the contenders for a medal.
- As a senior coach, Oltmans has won everything that top-flight hockey has to offer including the Olympic gold with the Netherlands in 1996. However, taking the Indian team to that level will be a different challenge altogether.
- Although Oltmans was only appointed as the coach last year, he has been involved with the team from nearly four years and was the high-performance director when former coach Paul Van Ass was sacked after a spat with the Federation.
How is the current format different from previous editions?
To improve the flow and intensity of the competition and to enhance fan experience, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has instituted some changes to the match format.
- A match will now consist of four 15-minute quarters, with a 2-minute rest after each quarter in contrast to the two 35-minute halves.
- Other changes include the implementation of 40-second time-outs following penalty corner awards and the scoring of a goal.
- Games ending in ties will directly be decided by penalty shootouts as extra time has been abolished since 2013.
- With additional stops to rehydrate and re-strategize, the new format may prove to be ideal to India’s chances, given that team has previously been guilty of conceding late goals as the players tire as full-time approaches.
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