It won't be wrong to say that 2014 has been the best year for Indian hockey in almost two decades thanks to Sardar Singh & Co's gold medal-winning show at the Incheon Asian Games that more importantly assured a direct qualification to the 2016 Rio Olympics. India last won the Asiad gold 16 years ago, back in Bangkok 1998.
Manpreet Singh celebrates after India clinched the Asian Games gold medal by beating Pakistan in the final at Incheon. Pic/Getty Images.
In the last three editions of the Olympics, India finished a poor eighth at Athens 2004, embarrassingly failed to qualify for Beijing 2008, and shockingly finished last at London 2012, making Rio (2016) a critical destination for the futurescope of Indian hockey.
Just before the Incheon Asiad, India repeated its silver medal finish at the Commonwealth Games by losing to the mighty Australians 0-4 in the final at Glasgow. It was a much better show from the Indians in comparison to the shameful 0-8 thumping against Australia in the New Delhi 2010 CWG final.
The second significant achievement for Indian hockey this year would have to be its conquest of world champions Australia in their own backyard. India beat the Kookaburras Down Under 3-1 in a four-match series — an unprecedented achievement.
While some would suggest that the Australians played a host of junior players as an experiment ahead of December’s FIH Champions Trophy, India too fielded seven of its junior players on the tour.
Finally, India’s fourth-place show at the prestigious Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar was a more-than-decent outing. While critics might suggest that a semi-final defeat to Pakistan (3-4) was unacceptable, and thereafter the third-place loss to Australia (1-2) was unimpressive too, an overview of the tournament tells a different tale.
In the league stages, India first went down by only a solitary goal to the powerful Germans, were then stunned 2-4 by the wily Argentines, before going on to register a historic 3-2 victory over the nifty Netherlands — India’s first win in 18 years over the Dutchmen, who are ranked No 2 in the world.
In the quarter-finals, World No 9 India convincingly beat World No 4 Belgium 4-2. Lest we forget, Team India was literally coach-less at this Champions Trophy, what with coach Terry Walsh failing in his contract extension negotiations, and high performance director Roelant Oltmans having to temporarily take over the coach’s mantle.
Indian hockey is all set to get a new coach soon, and if year 2014 is any indication, the national game looks set to achieve more glory too.