As the Indian hockey team prepares to board the flight to Malaysia today for the Asia Cup (Aug 24-Sept 1), which is their last chance to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the national game finds itself at the crossroads.
If Sardar Singh & Co fail to win this eight-nation tournament that features some tough teams like Korea and Pakistan besides hosts Malaysia, Indian hockey will miss out on playing in a World Cup for the first time ever.
However, even as hockey lovers would be sweating given every possibility of this happening, Hockey India’s chief selector BP Govinda remains confident that this young Indian team will do well in Ipoh.
“We have picked a young side and have full faith in them. I’m sure we can win this Asia Cup. Unfortunately, we are missing a few senior players due to injuries, but I believe that the youngsters will deliver the goods in Malaysia,” Govinda told MiD DAY yesterday.
A wily forward in his time, who helped India win what remains till date its only World Cup in 1975 in Malaysia, Govinda was not coy to admit the inexperience in the team’s forwardline.
“Four of our top forwards SV Sunil, Gurwinder Singh Chandi, Akashdeep Singh and Danish Mujtaba are injured. They will be missed, but in their place we have picked a couple of youngsters Ramandeep Singh and Nikin Thimmaiah, who are also capable of playing good hockey. They do lack in experience, but not in commitment,” said Govinda.
Goalkeeping too remains a cause for concern. “It’s sad that we have been unable to find a good goalkeeper as a back-up in case something happens to our main ’keeper Sreejesh.
The lack of good goalkeeping talent is a worry for Indian hockey. But thankfully, now we have a new goalkeeping coach (Dave Staniforth), who will go around finding and developing custodians in the future.”
Finally, Govinda felt this is not the time to dwell on the negatives and think about what if the Indian team does not win the Asia Cup. “We have a good very good coach and strategist in Roelant Oltmans.
I’m sure he has a few tricks up his sleeve. He is a very positive person and has instructed his team not to think about this tournament as being a World Cup qualifier but simply an Asia Cup that we HAVE to win. I’m hopeful they will,” he signed off.
Asia Cup 2013
(August 24 to September 1)
> Pool A: Pakistan, Malaysia, Japan, China
> Pool B: Korea India, Oman Bangladesh
Aug 24: India vs Oman
Aug 27: India vs Korea
Aug 28: India vs Bangladesh
Aug 29-31: Semi-finals
September 1: Final