With just more than two months left for the 2016 Rio Olympics, all the talks are around on how the Indian men’s hockey team will fare at the marquee event. Indian team head coach Roelant Oltmans is putting his boys through the grind and knows the massive expectations of billion hockey fans. The Dutchman spoke about the national team’s preparations in an exclusive interview.
Q How are things shaping up as far as looking at the bigger picture – the Rio Olympics – is concerned?
We are heading in the right direction – the boys are putting in a lot of hard work in the Bengaluru camp and we hope to fine-tune our Olympic preparations in the coming months before we head to Rio. Must say I’m pretty pleased with the efforts of my boys.
Q India’s defence has often come under criticism – have you seen significant improvement in this area?
I would like to believe our defence is getting better and better. The way our defence held up at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup convinces me that we are on the right track. We did concede goals in our games against Australia but by and large our defence is looking to pull up their socks.
Q You have resorted to resting key players in recent tourneys – Sreejesh, Raghunath, Dharamvir and Akashdeep were rested for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and Sardar and Rupinder also being rested for the Champions Trophy.
The idea is to have the entire bench fully fresh and fit at Rio. Some of our players have been playing non-stop or regularly attending camps and we thought a break was imperative to ensure they hit peak form at the Rio Olympics.
Q You tried out two goalkeepers – Harjot Singh and Akash Chikte – at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and now you have inducted Vikas Dahiya for the Champions Trophy.
Look, Sreejesh is our number one goalkeeper and our hunt for who is our number two goalie is still on. We tried out Harjot and Akash in Malaysia and for the Champions Trophy, we have called up Vikas Dahiya. We need to have a strong second goalkeeper and the process to identify one is on in full swing.
Q Gurbaj Singh has not been part of the national team for close to a year for the senior team, though he did play in the SAF Games. Does he have any hopes of playing in Rio?
I don’t want to comment anything on Gurbaj. For now, he is not part of the camp.
Q How would you assess your Indian forward line?
We have a talented forward line spearheaded by SV Sunil – he has shown more responsibility upfront and in his role as vice-captain did a good job at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
Q India appear to have a ‘problem of plenty’ in the penalty corner department – are you sure how many drag-flickers you want in your Rio Olympics-bound side?
It’s a good thing to have many options – but we are surely going to take two drag-flickers to Rio. Of course, we can take a third one depending on various factors – drag-flicking is an important area but we will be looking at a player from an overall perspective like his defending skills among others.
Q Realistically, what are your expectations from the Indian team at the Rio Olympics?
Our first priority is to reach the quarterfinals – we just have to stay consistent and if we play to our potential we can spring a few surprises.