Attacking midfielder Nilakanta Sharma feels the recent results have given the India men’s hockey team a much-needed impetus ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. The Indian team remained unbeaten during their European tour before having a successful Argentina tour, winning both FIH Pro League matches.
Out of international action for almost a year, the Indian team returned to top-level competition when they played against Germany and Great Britain in their unbeaten European tour.
The Men in Blue then went to Argentina, winning the FIH Pro League double-header in addition to playing four practice games against the 2016 Olympic Champions to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.
Nilakanta believes that spending a lot of time at the SAI national camp in Bengaluru has helped the players. He scored India’s first goal of the Argentina tour and followed it up with an assist in the second practice match.
“The Argentina tour was an important experience for all of us,” said Nilakanta. “We were yearning for proper match practice while building up towards the Tokyo Olympics. We showed a lot of character despite a lot of players taking the field after a long time.”
India qualified for Tokyo Olympics via 2019 FIH Qualifiers
India qualified for the Tokyo Olympics after beating Russia 11-3 in the 2019 FIH Olympic Qualifiers at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
Post that, India played against the likes of Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium in the FIH Pro League, winning two, losing two and drawing two from six matches.
“Our preparations for the Tokyo Olympics started last year in the FIH Pro League, where we fared well against World Champions Belgium, Netherlands and Australia."
"We also had a solid tour of Europe earlier this year. That gave us the confidence that we could face the best teams and come out on top,” Nilakanta said.
“We have a very good understanding about each other’s game. Conversations with chief coach Graham Reid have been open. He has been approachable from day one and has given me a very clear idea about my role in the team,” the 25-year-old added.
Nilakanta has come a long way since being crowned junior world champion in 2016. Players like Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Krishan Pathak, who were a part of that 2016 side, have been regulars in the senior team along with Nilakanta.
“I have been playing with these guys for such a long time. We are close friends and always try to help each other out. We are taking small steps at the moment and not getting ahead of ourselves. Hopefully, we will carry our current form into the Olympics as well,” Nilakanta signed off.