India will look to avoid wooden spoon in Olympic hockey

Six years ago in Monchengladbach, Germany, India scraped past South Africa 1-0 to finish 11th, and on the morrow, the Asian outfit will be hoping to score their first win at the Olympics here after having lost all their five league matches.

The South Africans had done well to hold eventual semifinalists Britain to a 2-2 draw after suffering a 0-6 defeat to Australia, but lost their remaining four games, albeit narrowly, to finish last in their group.

Sandeep Singh (second right) celebrates after scoring a goal against NZ at Riverbank Arena in London on August 1. Pic/AFP

In their most recent meetings, India had beaten South Africa 7-4 in the league and 4-2 in the semi-finals of the Champions Challenge tournament in Johannesburg last December, but it will be a different ball game at the Olympics.

For India, it boils down to their ability to regroup after the battering they received in the league phase. A three-day break thereafter would have helped them to get their focus and thoughts together to avoid the ignominy of finishing last among 12 teams, like they did in the 1986 World Cup.

Under the circumstances, coach Michael Nobbs’ accusations of senior players not executing plans were ill-timed and did not help matters in a team that was desperately short on confidence and morale.

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