For quiet a few, the heading it self may seem far fetched, me included. I want to assess the realistic chances of India attaining any medal at Athens. I begin with Hockey not because India has the maximum chance in it but simply for the historical reasons.
We are the country whose national sport is Hockey(the only Gold fetching event so far) and who have won the gold most number of times, albeit the last on was 24 years back in Moscow Olympics. We must also note that due to cold war, many (9 to be precise) prominent team did not compete in this US-led boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games. The boycotting teams included the top 3 teams at Montreal, 1976 - New Zealand (gold), Australia (silver) and Pakistan (bronze). Germany, Holland and Great Britain opted out as well. So no big deal at all.
What are the current chances? We are in Group B with Holland, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand. A tough group but not as much as the Group A - the group of the death this time. It has Pakistan, Germany, Spain, South Korea, Egypt and Great Britain. For India, there two key games. The first one against Holland especially, and the one against Aussies. That's because these two are the major contenders for the semifinal spot. Rest of them are as good or bad as India. If India is doesn't lose(wins or draws) both of these matches and wins rest of it's matches, the chance of semi-final berth are bright.
One year back, I would have put it not beyond India. They had drawn and defeated Australia in their country. They had defeated Pakistan everywhere. But more recently i.e. 2 months back, they were in shambles. Infighting, bad planning had thrown them into a incoherent unit. After that, the have regrouped a bit. They have given good performances in Europe, especially against Germany, a freak loss to Ireland notwithstanding. Penlaty Corner
Playing eleven does not look formidable enough, but with some planning, they might click. They have surprised every one in past. Loss of Jugraj Singh is a big blow but India has to get over that. He could have proved very valuable with his drag flicks and penalty corner saves. He is live wire in the field. Unfortunately, we don't have his replacement. The problem of a missing drag flicker in Indian Hockey team is as compelling as that of a missing wicket keeper in Indian Cricket team. Sandeep Mishra from under 19 will be the drag flicker for us.
India is terrible in earning penalty corners. And even of they earn, the hardly convert. Mishra and Dileep Turkey would be the key. Goal Keeper
Goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan, who was one man army at defense till six months back is out of sorts. He and Jugraj were the reason behind India's recent success. He needs to get his confidence and movements back. His form will largely decide India's reach. Forwards
As far as forwards are concerned, Dhanraj is our main hope. Although, he is past his prime and has lost much of his speed, he still makes good moves. His and Sachin's careers have tread similar path but like Sachin, he still instills tremendous respect and fear amongst the opponents. They waste at least two defenders marking him. If he can release ball a little bit earlier, it will be good for the team.
Gagan Ajit Singh has to move on from his reverse hits. After those two breathtaking reverse flicked goals last year against Pakistan, he tries to take most of his hits on the reverse, only. Need to get out of that fast. We don't need these self plays. Deepak Thakur is Ok, though his finishing leaves a lot to be desired. Same is the case with Dhillon. The least I say about Prabhjot Singh is the better. A good for nothing player. Hardly maneuvers any move and can't hit even in a empty post. He should have been dispensed with a long time back. Defense
Defense is solely in hand of Dileep Turkey because rest of them slept through out the champions trophy and Olympic qualifiers. Neither, can they take their foot out of the way, nor can they tackle the ball away. Captain has to take the reins and marshal the rest of the sweeper backs. Last six months, India have been conceding too many goals and penalty corners- and major culprit is the shoddy defending. They cover the ball instead of opposition forwards, in the process, giving them free hits.
This doesn't give a rosy picture, but as I said earlier - the team has the surprise element and let's hope the team surprises us big time, this time. A lot of that depends upon the strategy and the start. I think Jagbir Singh and the little known German coach Gerhard Rach, are equal to the task. Go India go!
Labels: Cricket, Hockey, Sports