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London 2012: A tough road ahead for the men in blue

India has always been a sports-loving nation and has the reputation of breeding some of the greats. But India is mainly recognized as a cricketing nation and rightly so. After all, the country has produced legends like Kapil Dev, Bishen Singh Bedi, Sachin Tendulkar and many others. But the tiring schedule and the recent decline in performance of the Indian cricket team has seen many ardent followers turn their back to the game. And this comes to happen at a time when Indian hockey is in the rise.

After failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, Indian hockey had to face much humiliation which ultimately resulted in some dramatic changes with Indian hockey grabbing the headlines almost every other day, India has finally qualified for the London Olympics 2012 after eight long years of anxiety. The path to London Olympics has been a relatively smooth one for the men in blue with the format of the qualifiers assisting them to an extent. Also, playing in front of the home fans did add to their advantage. But it will be a tough time ahead for India as they take on the European giants in the Olympics. Australia, Germany, the Netherlands are, surely, intimidating opponents and Pakistan will also give strong resistance to the Indian challenge. So if you had thought that it’s going to be a cakewalk for the national team just like the qualifiers, you are miserably mistaken!

Strictly speaking, India were always the favorites and it would have been something more than mere disappointment had India not qualified. Teams like Canada and Poland did not perform to the expectations and France became an easier outing for India in the finals. However, just like one moon can overshadow a thousand stars, this success of the Indian team overshadowed all their defensive woes. As things stand now, it’s a race against time for Micheal Nobbs to plug all the loopholes with just five months in hand. Sandeep Singh has been a brilliant drag-flicker for India and no surprise, he has emerged as the highest goal-scorer for India in the qualifiers. But he has been a major disappointment in the defensive line-up.

But there are brighter sides as well. Other than Sandeep Singh, Sardara Singh’s form is a major plus for India. The likes of Tushar Khandekar and VR Raghunath also looks in sublime touch. The goal-keeping has also been quite up to the mark with both Bharat Chetri and P Sreejesh looking reliable. The players are also looking fitter than earlier. Michael Nobbs’ idea of attacking game-play like the Australians has shown encouraging signs and it will be a treat to see how the men in blue tackle the Aussies in London. However, India will be missing the services of former skipper Rajpal Singh and Arjun Halappa who have been axed from the team.

Meanwhile, as the World Series Hockey got underway from Feb 29, the players who are participating in the tournament have to miss the national preparatory camp for the Olympics as the schedules are clashing.

All in all, it is going to be an extremely tough road ahead for Nobbs’ men and it will not only be silly, but also unrealistic to expect a gold medal from them. But Nobbs is a tough man and the Indian team has enough in them to surprise the world. For me, a podium finish for them will be as good as winning the gold medal!

Five months sounds a long time, but it is not so. Till then, CHAK DE! INDIA!

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