This piece was published in Sportskeeda
The Indian senior men’s hockey team has injected hopes among hockey lovers about regaining the glory days of yesteryears. The Terry Walsh-coached Indian team’s silver-winning performance at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games has indeed caused tongues wagging about the marked improvement in the team’s performance and has instilled a self-belief that the team can take on the best in the business. The CWG performance diluted the disappointment of the national team finishing 9th at the 2014 World Cup at The Hague, Netherlands.
The high-on-confidence Indians will be looking to dish out another robust showing in the upcoming Incheon Asian Games beginning September 19. “We have to be at our best to win the Asian Games as the winner secures a ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics. The kind of progress the team have made in recent times definitely makes me feel optimistic about our Asiad-winning chances you could say the team is looking good to achieve that,” says Indian team head coach Terry Walsh in an exclusive interview.
The celebrated Aussie coach, however, guarded against any complacency. “No team can be taken for granted. We have Pakistan in our group and they are a highly skilled side, who can trouble any side on their day. Malaysia and South Korea are formidable opponents and we will be facing them in the latter stages of the tournament since both of them are placed in Pool A.
Ground work should be in placeDwelling on India’s CWG performance in Glasgow, Walsh feels that the team raised their game by a several notches as the tournament wore on. “The boys have put in the hard yards, and as far as our first game against Wales is concerned it was not as if the team did not play well, just that we did not settle down in the first half but overcome that in the second half. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we are beginning to jell as a unit going into the upcoming Asian Games,” he observes. The passing, trapping and penalty conversions have shown a distinct improvement in the Commonwealth Games, something Walsh acknowledges. “We have improved in these areas, but we need to sustain it and only then we can beat top teams regularly,” he adds.
Walsh stressed on the need of putting in place a systematic hockey programme at the grassroots level. “Having a systematic grass root level programme will hold the key to Indian hockey’s future. If we can have professionally-run hockey academies in each state, and churn out quality local coaches, I’m sure Indian hockey will be a redoubtable outfit in the years to come.”
We have a team that could test anyoneWalsh touched on out-of-favour drag-flicker Sandeep Singh and indicated that the ball is in his court if he wants to stage a comeback. “Look, Sandeep is currently out of the 33 probables who are training for the upcoming Asian Games. He has to work hard at the domestic tournaments and the 2015 Hockey India League to merit a place in the national side. Sandeep is a seasoned campaigner and I know being part of the side for so long, he will find their comeback route harder than ever before. If he can show that he deserves a place in the national team, we will pick him,” he says matter-of-factly.
There is a general perception that the team have the wherewithal to beat sides ranked between 4 to 7 like England, Belgium, Argentina and New Zealand, if not the top-3 (Australia, Germany and Netherlands). Walsh has no doubts about it. “I agree that we have the ammunition to beat these sides. I narrowly lost to England and Belgium in the World Cup, but had beaten Korea and New Zealand. This clearly shows the team is progressing.”
So what’s the realistic picture for the 2016 Rio Olympics? “I strongly believe in getting the processes in place. I believe we need to raise the performance bar and keep working on our basics. I don’t wish to jump to any conclusions, but a top-6 finish is definitely there for the taking,” he quips.
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