With the Rio Olympics having no classification matches, the positions were decided on the number of wins and goals scored in the league phase. India finished a lowly 8th position, courtesy a poor goal difference. But their performances certainly displayed a lot of vigor and skill!
India has displayed a welcome change of style from its more traditional level of hockey. Although conceding goals in the dying minutes is still a concern. But the team has now started to play a bit more positively. Overall, the team displayed good tenacity to chase down matches and score goals either to draw level and try for the late win.
India has been equally good in its battle to hold out the opponent team in their pursuit of goals. The only thing missing has been the finish, the polishing of this brand of hockey which will only improve as time passes by. We will adapt more and more to this playing style, becoming more adept and adroit to modern hockey. After all, it also took Belgium and Argentina years to get to an Olympic final and their performance should serve as a good motivation that the task at hand is daunting but definitely possible!
All round abilities of players and fitness levels
Every player has become more versatile and can now adapt to different situations and playing styles. This is by far one of the fittest sides that India has ever produced! Moreover, players are not afraid to take up different playing positions and the rotating captains policy has helped groom leaders and make the players more mature and responsible. Moreover, all players were disappointed with the end result which reflects the winning mentality that the team has inherited.
It shows how the team thinks of their on-field performances, a huge shift in the approach in the recent past. Coach Roelant Oltmans deserves equal credit and applause to make this turnaround happen.
“The results were satisfactory if not ideal according to our preparations. But, looking back we can see that in every game we pushed our opponents to the very end. This is a team of high quality. Sometimes the results don’t accurately display the performance. In this case, I think the team would have learnt a lot. So have we as coaching staff.” - Roelant Oltmans.
Not afraid to try out something new
How often have you seen the squad have a single goalkeeper and that too was substituted in the dying minutes for a sweeper keeper. India did it thrice! Perhaps the situation demanded it as we were desperately seeking to score a goal. But nonetheless, it highlights the risk taking abilities of the team now which was nowhere to be seen in the recent past.
Moreover, the players realize that they have plenty of things to learn from the Rio Olympics experience and need to pull their socks every time they step on the field and convert their chances to the fullest. The opposition is vulnerable, as we have seen in the Olympics and it is just that we need to work a bit harder to dig out the results in our favour.
We had 3 penalty corner specialists in the form of Rupinder, Raghunath and Harmanpreet. Their skills stand wasted when the forward line struggles to earn PC's, which was the case in India's quarter-final match against Belgium when we couldn't garner a single PC, our strength throughout the match!
It is here that India missed Mandeep the goal poacher. With his predatory skills in front of the goal, scoring goals or at least getting penalty corners would have been much easier.
Since there is a solitary tournament planned for this year with close to 5 months left, a bilateral test series is an ideal solution to give playing time opportunities that can serve as a springboard for the comeback of few players like Birendra Lakra, Talwinder Singh, etc. The team management would be equally keen to try out different players and increase our bench strength.
“For all of us the Olympic has been a great eye opener and a huge life experience. I’m proud of the team for the way we played. Barring some small moments, our performance was very good. Now we have to focus on correcting all the things we got wrong and believe in ourselves for the future.” - Indian Team Captain, PR Sreejesh.
Consistency is the key
The team performed brilliantly to grab a bronze in the 2015 Hockey World League and silver in the 2016 Champions Trophy, matching the top sides in the world and showing time and again how close is the competition now. But to be the best in the world, you need to perform consistently. The team definitely has the potential and in the coming years if we can work out on these moments in the match, the consistency aspect would also be an integral part of the team soon.
Board and its policies
The management persisted with Sardar Singh despite his personal problems. On the other hand, the same was not meted out to Rani Rampal who was the very reason why India qualified after a gap of 36 years. Had she been around things would have been easier for the blue skirts with the wealth of experience that she has.
Moreover, the board has sidelined Gurbaj Singh completely. Will he get a second chance that he rightly deserves? Given the ego of board president Narendra Batra and the preferential treatment of players, this doesn't look likely.
As has been the case, when the results don't turn out the board becomes impatient and shifts the blame to an easier culprit, the coach! But the crux for any long-term development should be by backing the coach. After all his vision, style and core players will all help us in the longer run even if the results may not reflect immediately.
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It would be perfect for the team to have that stability and Roelant Oltmans should remain at the helm for at least 1 more year to continue building the team with his philosophy and style of play.