India hockey coach Michael Nobbs says the one good thing about the present lot of players is that they are neither euphoric nor weighed down by history. Their obsession happily is “only to win.”
The Indian team under his charge has won the Asian Champions Trophy, finished second in the Champions Challenge, topped the Olympic qualifiers and took the bronze in the Azlan Shah Cup, where the field included five teams India can expect to play in the London Games.
“They are neither euphoric nor weighed down by the glorious past of Indian hockey. These boys know only to win. So it will be very difficult for me to predict where India would finish in the Olympics. The preparation is a work in progress and the boys are showing signs of improvement every day,” Nobbs said in an interview from Pune where the team is training at the Balewadi Sports Complex.
Win against Britain
Nobbs said the victory against Olympic hosts Britain in the bronze-medal play-off match at the recent Azlan Shah Cup showed they could stand up to the Europeans. “The win against Britain was very important because we haven’t beaten a top European team for a long time. The win will keep them in good stead ahead of the Olympics,” he said.
India are clubbed in pool B at the Olympics with Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, New Zealand and Belgium and Nobbs realises there is little room for errors against such strong opponents.
Asked if his boys have the ability to match the European teams in terms of fitness, he said: “We have improved a lot in terms of fitness and I am confident that the boys can match the best in the world. They have been put through high-altitude stimulation training here and I am pretty happy with their physical condition. I think our exercise physiologist David John has done a great job with the team.”
‘Not powerfully built’
Nobbs, however, laments that his players are not powerfully built like their European counterparts. “I wish the Indian players had some more power. When we took over, the players were 10-18kg lighter than the European players. We have worked hard to reduce the difference,” he said.
The Australian was confident that his players, with their all-round skills, will put up a tough fight against the European teams. He said another plus point is that the team is not carrying much of the baggage that was there when India last played at the Olympics in Athens in 2004.
The 16-member squad has only Ignace Tirkey and Sandeep Singh who were part of the squad at Athens where the eight-time Olympic champions finished seventh.
Nobbs feels barring the two players, the others haven’t suffered the heartbreak and that adds to the “feel good factor” in the team. “Barring Ignace and Sandeep, the remaining players came up in the last four years. I don’t think what has happened in the past will have a bearing on the young players. They are a motivated lot and are excited to do well in the Olympics,” said the Australian.
The chief coach was happy that his players are multi-dimensional and defended Sandeep, an ace drag flicker, whose defensive skills are suspect. “I won’t say Sandeep is a poor defender. In every team you will find one or two players who are selected on the strength of their special skills. Australian Luke Doerner is an example. Sandeep is one of the best drag-flickers in the world and is special,” Nobbs said.
However, according to Nobbs, finishing is an area of concern for India. “We are still working on our finishing. We are creating several openings, but unable to finish as well as we should. It is a concern, but again it is a work in progress,” he said.