Of course, translating ‘on paper’ strength into on-pitch reality is easier said than done. Having said that, one cannot deny the fact that the Sardar Singh-led side has played some really ‘solid’ hockey in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games; more importantly, the team mitigated the daft errors which cost them dear in tight games at the 2014 World Cup.
The point is why do we believe India can harbor serious hopes of a gold-medal finish in Inchoen? Hosts Korea, who are the highest ranked side in the tournament (ranked number eighth), will be always be dangerous opponents along with defending champions and 11th ranked Pakistan and 13th ranked Malaysia.
But to tell the truth, all these teams who are touted as traditional powerhouses in Asian Games, have hit a lean trot. Korea dished out a trashy display in the 2014 World Cup and were soundly beaten 3-0 by lower ranked India as they were consigned to the tenth spot. Pakistan failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time ever and the team is grappling with lack of international exposure and fund crunch, while Malaysia are licking their lips after their wooden spoon finish at the 2014 World Cup with their head coach being given the marching orders.
It is pertinent mention that no ‘coaching strategizing manual’ tells a team to take any team lightly just because their recent form hasn’t been anything to write home about. Surely, the head coach Terry Walsh must have ingrained in the boys that there is no allowance for ‘complacency’ and every game has to be fought hard if a Rio berth has to be secured in Incheon.
This Indian team can no longer be called a ‘young talented side, as it has as many as eight players who have played more than hundred internationals. In fact, India looks a vastly experienced side with the likes of captain Sardar Singh, Gurbaj Singh, SV Sunil, PR Sreejesh, Vokkaliga, Gurwinder Singh Chandi, Danish Mujtaba and Manpreet Singh more than capable of stepping up to the plate.
The Indian defence looks sorted out with Sreejesh manning the cage like a rock of Gibraltar. Gurbaj Singh has lent more depth to both the backline as well as in the midfield. He has taken some load off Sardar in midfield with young Manpreet always eager to shoulder new responsibilities.
The return of Gurwinder Singh Chandi has clearly added more teeth to the Indian forwardline. Chandi alongside Sunil, Dharamvir and Danish have gathered substantial experience over a period of time and have it in them to strike telling blows at opponents. Young turks like Akashdeep, Ramandeep and Nikkin will seek to complement their senior pros upfront.
Arch-rivals India and Pakistan being pitted in the same group has triggered more excitement among fans, but it also means they won’t meet each other in the semifinal at least, though the prospect of a lip-smacking final clash is always there.
For that to happen, India must overcome the likes of 40th ranked Sri Lanka, 22nd ranked Oman and 27th ranked China besides Pakistan before they can think about their chances in the knockout phase.