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One bad match can ruin Olympic hopes: Nobbs

After Sunday's Champions Challenge final defeat, hockey coach Michael Nobbs talks about India's precarious, yet possible Olympic qualification

The Indian hockey team may have broken a million hearts with their 3-4 defeat in the dying moments of the final of the Champions Challenge to Belgium in Johannesburg on Sunday, but coach Michael Nobbs is satisfied with the team's progress nevertheless. The Australian said the second place finish, though disappointing, will keep India in good stead for the all-important Olympic Qualifiers to be played in New Delhi in February next year.


Gurbaj Singh effects a tackle during India's Asian Games semi-final
against Malaysia in Guangzhou, China last year. Pic/AFP


Excerpts from an interview

The team did well throughout the Champions Challenge and looked certain to clinch the title before losing the final in the last few minutes to Belgium. What went wrong in those final moments?
It's really disappointing to lose like this... we had things under control at 3-1 in the second half. But we can take a lot of positives from here. It's better that we learn from our  mistakes and make certain improvements before the Olympic Qualifiers (February).


India hockey coach Michael Nobbs

Going into the Champions Challenge did you think winning the title was a possibility?
I think we were always long way off the title as there were some very good teams in this tournament but we made some good progress. David (John, physiotherapist) and I have been coaching for just 17 weeks now, so it's not really a long time. We have attempted to reintroduce hockey patterns that India always had and improve on them with our Australian style.

The Indian team looked to be in more of an attacking mode throughout this tournament. Is that something you've been working upon?
Yes... we are trying to reintroduce a more attacking style and that is happening to some extent. To play the top teams in the world, we will have to be much better in attack. Again, this will happen but it's going to take some time. We have changed the style away from a basically European style to a style that suits our players.

The Olympic qualifiers are round the corner and the team seems to be is peaking well. Do you reckon we will win the qualifiers?
Once again, you only need just one bad game and you're finished. We are trying to control the controllables so that we are as good as we can be by the time the qualifiers come around. We are trying to leave as little to chance as we can.

You have enjoyed some decent success with this Indian team in a short time. How have things changed things around?
We have a really long way to go. We have improved the fitness of our players but we desperately need time to improve upon the drill areas of the game. We have spent a lot of time playing tournaments and touring and now need time to keep the team in one place to practice the areas where we have major
deficiencies.

Speaking of practice, the national camp is coinciding with the World Series Hockey, to be played in India (Dec 17-Jan 12). Your thoughts on the controversy brewing
All I will say is that the World Series Hockey is a major distraction right at the moment.

Where do you think this Indian team can still improve?
We need to improve in our strength and size. We are physically weaker and smaller than the teams ranked above us. Modern hockey has changed dramatically in the last 2-3 years with Australia showing us that the benchmark now is very high. Skills and a little coaching is just not enough nowadays. New sports science methods and new coaching techniques are vital to success.

The old system of throwing in a former player and making him coach is a recipe for failure as has happened in the past. We are now ranked 10th in the world as a consequence of this past system. Let's hope everyone can get behind us now and get us back to where we should be... No 1!

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