After an eight-year break, India renew their quest for the elusive ninth gold medal when they take on the Netherlands in their opening Group A fixture of the Olympic men’s hockey competition here today.
The Indians, on a comeback after failing to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, face a difficult task of even reaching the semi-finals, much less winning a medal, as they have, besides the Dutch, defending champions Germany, Korea, New Zealand and Belgium to contend with.
As such, there is no respite for the Indians who last beat the Netherlands in the Olympics back in 1984 and Germany in 1968. The Kiwis have always been difficult opponents while it will be a lottery against Korea and a test of firepower against the Belgians.
The expectations this time are sky high, thanks to the undue hype over India’s qualification to the Olympics after a string of victories against weak opponents in New Delhi earlier this year.
A bronze medal at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, where the Kiwis won the title, triggered another round of euphoria, but later, defeats against the higher ranked Australia, Germany and Great Britain at a test event in London showed India their place in the hockey hierarchy.
Thus, going into the opening game against double gold medallists (1996, 2000) the Netherlands, India will have to do most of the running, given the all-round strength of their opponents.
But nevertheless, Indian coach Michael Nobbs is confident of his team’s chances. “We have gone through the tough grind in the run-up to the Olympic Games, and the boys have worked hard.
“They are now excited about getting on to the pitch,” Nobbs told PTI.
“We just can’t wait for the action to begin. The Dutch are a good side, but the Indians are keen to put their own game on display.
Kiwis shock Aussies
New Zealand pulled off a shock 1-0 victory over former champions Australia in the opening game of Olympic women’s field hockey yesterday, a first ever win over their rivals in Games history.