Champions Trophy 2016: Podium finish for India be will near-perfect launch pad for Olympics
Stakes are always high in a tournament as high-profile as the FIH Champions Trophy but with the 2016 Rio Olympics just two months away, it will be interesting to see how teams approach this event. Teams may not like to go all out or preserve some of their key players as no team can ill-afford any serious injuries though players can never avoid injuries. India are without quite a few key players – regular skipper Sardar Singh, drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh, and Ramandeep Singh have been rested.
With due respect to all these guys, one gets the feeling that the team has really shored up its bench strength and at times we do feel that some players are not even missed because the ones replacing them pull their weight. Remember the India-New Zealand semifinal of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, where the Blueshirts overcame the one-match ban on skipper Sardar Singh to pull off a famous 3-2 win over the Black Sticks.
The likes of Sreejesh and Raghunath were also not part of the team for the 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, but the team did really well to finish runners-up – though one felt that Sreejesh was sorely missed as India's backup goalkeepers did not quite inspire desired confidence.
India are a team riding on a pile of self-belief and do not get overawed by the reputation of top sides anymore. Five of the six teams barring South Korea, at the 36th Champions Trophy are focusing on the Olympics, and no team will want the event to be a forgettable journey ahead of the Rio Olympics.
At the same time, showing up all the aces may not be advisable for Olmpic-bound teams. Given this scenario, India can take a lot of confidence with a podium finish in London – if they can it will be their second consecutive medal in a major event after the Hockey World League, where they stunned the Dutch to bag the bronze medal.
A close look at their results against the top teams will reveal that inconsistency is still an issue but overall India has looked competitive against most teams – barring their 0-3 loss to Argentina in the Hockey World League Final Round in Raipur, India has really competed and did not give anything on a platter – 1-1 draw against Olympic champions, 2-1 win over Great Britain showed that India are getting better and better in pursuit of becoming a world-beater.
Of course, 1-3 and 0-2 defeats to the Netherlands and Belgium were learning lessons, this Indian team has shown signs of reviving the golden days of the sport.
A new captain – PR Sreejesh – will now look to maintain the tempo at London and who knows another podium finish should serve a near-perfect launch pad for the Rio Olympics.