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19 days to Tokyo Olympics 2020: Former captain Zafar Iqbal reminisces India's 1980 hockey gold medal

Indian hockey team enters the Olympics with a lot of expectations. (PC: Hockey India)
Indian hockey team enters the Olympics with a lot of expectations. (PC: Hockey India)

The Indian hockey team is always under a truckload of expectations when they participate in any Olympics campaign. Although India is the most successful team in the Olympics in hockey with eight gold medals, the team has failed to make an impact since they last won a gold in 1980.

In the 41-year-period since, Indian hockey has seen plenty of dark days. The lowest of the lot came when they even failed to qualify for the Olympics in Beijing in 2008.

When India won the gold last time, in 1980, Zafar Iqbal was one of the most important and experienced players in the team. Nicknamed the "gentleman of hockey", Zafar Iqbal had the distinction of being the flag bearer for the Indian Olympic contingent in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Read: Why Indian hockey teams will have 18 Olympians in a squad of 16 for Tokyo Olympics 2020

Decades later the iconic left-forward reminisced on what would be India’s last hockey gold medal.

“The memory of 1980 will remain with me forever. It was more than a personal achievement as it was such a big moment for the country as well. It was the 8th Gold medal in hockey for the country, which is a record that will surely stand for a long time,” Zafar Iqbal told Hockey India.

The Indian team went in with relatively inexperienced players, many of whom were playing the quadrennial Games for the first time.

“It was a tough campaign for us because most of the members in that team were young players and debutants at the Olympics. I believe only Vasudevan Baskaran and Bir Bahadur Chhetri had played in the 1976 Olympics previously. I remember that the final against Spain was a really difficult match. Mohammed Shahid was our key player in the final, and he played extraordinarily that day,” Zafar Iqbal said.

Also read: Dilip Tirkey: Debutants have to step up if the Indian Men's Hockey team wants a podium finish at Tokyo Olympics 2020

The Indian team of the yore were exceptional in come-backs and Zafar Iqbal, who had a distinguished playing career, recalled one.

"I still remember the 1982 Champions Trophy encounter against Pakistan in Holland. We were trailing 3-0 against our rivals in the early phase of that game, and we staged a huge comeback to win that game 5-4 in the end. Rajinder Singh Jr. scored 3 goals in that game to lead us to a memorable win. That was a beautiful feeling," he said.
Zafar Iqbal (PC: Hockey India)
Zafar Iqbal (PC: Hockey India)

Optimistic on a fruitful Olympic hockey campagin

Zafar Iqbal said he had been followed India’s progress very keenly and was optimistic of a fruitful campaign in Tokyo.

“The team is ranked fourth in the world, which in itself is a great achievement. I kept an eye on their performances in the tour against Argentina, where they played well. I just have to say that the Olympic atmosphere is very different from the test games. There is no room for any slip ups or experiments here, and self-belief and self-determination in each player are going to be the most valuable traits for the team,” he said.

Also read: Graham Reid lauds players’ mental resilience and technical skills ahead of Tokyo Olympics 2020

India are placed in Group A at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 along with Australia, Argentina, Spain, New Zealand and Japan. India open their campaign against New Zealand on July 24.

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Edited by Diptanil Roy
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