London - Indian hockey team’s assistant coach and Olympian Mohammed Riaz wants to bury in the London Olympics the ghost of the 2000 Sydney Games, where the team missed the semi-final by a whisker.
Riaz, who was member of the team in 2000 Olympics, said the Sydney Games remains his only regret in life.
“It was a case of so near yet so far. If only we had beaten Poland. We were leading till a few minutes before the final whistle, but the match ended in a draw. Had we won it, we would have made it to the semi-final,” said Riaz during an interaction here at the Games Village.
Riaz said the Indian hockey team, eight-time Olympic champions, has failed to live up to the reputation in the past two decades.
“I don’t accept this view that hockey is on the decline in India. Yes, we have not lived up to the expectations, which millions of hockey lovers expect from us, because we were eight-time Olympic champions,” he said.
Asked what prompted India’s slide in international hockey, Riaz said: “Well, there are several reasons for the slide from the top. First, it is very difficult to stay at the top for very long. Take the case of Brazil, Argentina or even England in football. No team or Individual has been undisputed leader for long, it is against the law of nature.”
“Second, other countries have also come up. Earlier when we were dominating, some critics used to say that there is hardly any opposition, other countries are not interested in hockey. But when others started winning, they now say Indian hockey is on decline.”
A fine utility player, Riaz represented India for a decade (1990-2000). He played in two World Cups (1994, 1998), Olympics (1996, 2000) and Asian Games (1994, 1998).
“Hockey is in my blood. I never thought of playing any other game. My father Mohammed Abdul Nabi played for the Railways and was an international referee. My younger brother Mohammed Nawaz played for junior India,” said Riaz.
Riaz said Olympian and famous forward Mohammed Shahid was his hero.
“At home, hockey was the main topic of discussion. We used to hear about big players and my father wanted me to emulate Shahid and I became his fan.”
“I first went abroad with the junior team to play in the World Cup qualifier in Malaysia in 1992. In 1994 I went to Australia with the national team and was declared Man of the Series against Australia. That was huge. It boosted my morale and gave me the confidence that I can take on any player of the world. Till now I have sustained that confidence,” he said.
Riaz said 1998 Bangkok Asian Games was the highest point in his career.
“1998 Bangkok Asian Games was the highest point of my career. We won the gold in the Asian Games after 32 years,” he said.
About the team’s chances, Riaz said: “It is the fittest squad from India in the recent times. There has been a tremendous improvement. I am confident that this time team will give a much better performance.”