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Hockey Flashbacks: The nightmare of 1986 that India would never forget

341   //    15 Nov 2018, 17:59 IST

FIH Men's Field Hockey World Cup 1986: When Australia won the top honours as Asian hockey fell flat
FIH Men's Field Hockey World Cup 1986: When Australia won the top honours as Asian hockey fell flat

1984 and 1986. These are the two years that even the most ardent fan of Indian hockey will find it hard to describe, for they are nothing less than the darkest moments in the history of what was once a glorious sport for country.

Nobody can forget the moment, when a shot from the skipper Zafar Iqbal went wide, despite nobody but the West German goalkeeper between the goal at the Los Angeles Olympics held in 1984. This was the last time India even reached close to grasping the Olympic medal, and it has never been the same since.

But what was more horrifying was the nightmare of a year, which is remembered by every Indian hockey fan as the moment when India bowed out of the FIH Hockey World Cup in the worst way possible. Forget making it to the semifinals, the Indian hockey team couldn't even make it to the top 8, and finished with the wooden spoon. This was the first ever Hockey World Cup that was played on astroturf.

League Stage: A nightmare for India

FIH World Cup 1986: A nightmare that India can never forget
FIH World Cup 1986: A nightmare that India can never forget

The signs that India was in for a nasty surprise was evident from the very first match, when they were shocked by Poland by 0-1. Despite getting more than eight penalty corners, India couldn't convert even one.

The team led by Mohammad Shahid couldn't recover from this shock as they were further humiliated by Spain and Australia, with scores of 0-2 and 0-6 respectively.

Of the 5 matches India played, they could win only one, that too against the team of Canada, with a measly score of 2-0. They scored only 5 goals overall, as compared to the 11 goals conceded.

The rivalry none wished or expected

Like every major FIH tournament, this tournament too had a match every ardent hockey fan desired - between India and Pakistan. But the fashion in which it was played was something none ever expected, or even wished for.

This time, India and Pakistan were not playing for the title, or even the bronze medal. No, they weren't even playing for a respectable position in Top 5. They were just playing to avoid the last position in the 12 teams that played at the World Cup.


Initially, India held Pakistan to a good draw, but not for long, as the ex-World Cup champions pummeled them in the dying seconds of the extra time to win the match, forcing India to be content with the wooden spoon. Mohammad Shahid's felicitation as the 'Best Player' was the anti-climax to this dreary campaign, as nobody celebrated this feat.

The Kookaburras establish a new legacy

Terry Walsh with the World Cup [on the right]
Terry Walsh with the World Cup [on the right]

On the other hand, the Australians were on a roll. Drawing just one match with West Germany, the 'giant killers' had now established themselves as the new hockey power, defeating USSR by 5-0 to enter the finals. They met their former masters and the hosts for this edition, England, in the finals. Initially down by a goal in the first half, the Kookaburras bounced back well within time to win their first ever World Cup, defeating England 2-1.

The mother of all ironies, the very man who scored the winning goal would later lead the weakest team of this edition to their first Asian Games gold in more than 16 years, when India defeated Pakistan by 4-2 to win the gold at Incheon Asiad 2014.

Yes, he was none other than Terry Walsh, who once coached the Indian team to glory when the sport was overhauled with a quarter-based format instead of the traditional two halves, and a lively penalty shootout, instead of the textbook penalty strokes.