Going by its past performances, not many would fancy Indian men’s hockey team’s chances in the upcoming Olympics, but chief coach Roelant Oltmans says a medal finish in Rio is very much achievable if “everything falls in the right place at the right time”.
Eight-time gold medallists India finished a lowly 12th and last in the London Olympics four years ago, but Oltmans feels that’s a thing of the past and says if his boys can bring out their best anything can happen this time around.
“We are in a group of teams that can win a medal but everything has to fall in the right place at the right moment and that is what the Olympic Games are all about,” Oltmans told PTI in an interview.
“The question is ‘will you be able to to show your best hockey at the right moment’? and the answer is ‘If we do so we are (a medal contender)’.”
“Every team in the world wants to win a medal in the Olympic Games. For us it’s the same but we have to make improvement to make that happen. I always go step by step, so the first thing for me is having a good pool phase and qualify for the quarterfinals. From there on we need to win only three more matches,” the Dutchman said, summing his expectations.
India are clubbed alongside defending champions Germany, European champions Netherlands, Pan-American Games winners Argentina, Ireland and Canada in a relatively tough Pool B in the Rio Olympics, while Pool A consists of world champions Australia, Belgium, hosts Brazil, Great Britain, New Zealand and Spain. Top four teams from each pool will progress to the quarterfinals.
“For me the pool is nothing new. The pools are based on world rankings and they are honest and fair. We have to work hard to make sure that we start well and finish in the top four in our group to qualify for the quarterfinals. It is our primary aim. Once in the quarterfinals then it’s a one-off game and everything can happen in a one-off game,” he said.
Oltmans, who is also the High Performance Director of Indian hockey, hinted that they might go in with one goalkeeper in PR Sreejesh.
“It’s subject to discussion but normally most of the teams will bring in one goalkeeper in their 16-member squad and there will be two players in the reserves which includes one goalkeeper. That is what most of the teams will do and that is what I will also recommend,” the legendary Dutchman said.
Oltmans said India will continue to rest seniors in tournaments in the run up to the Olympics but warned every player against taking their place in the squad for granted.
“It is not just about giving juniors a chance, it is also about giving rest to a couple of senior players who have played a lot of hockey in the last two years. We will do the same in the next two tournaments we play and from there on we will look for the right combination for the Olympics,” he said.
“For everyone it’s real competition. In every line of the field — defenders, midfielders and forwards — the competition is tough and that’s good.
“We will next play the Champions Trophy in London and after that six-nation event in Valencia and straight after that we will discuss the final squad for the Olympic Games. We have a group of 28 players right now and everybody has a chance. Everyone has to prove himself everyday and that is what is challenging. Everyone need to challenge. No one is sure,” Oltmans added.
Consistency is something which has been a thorn in the flesh for Indian men’s hockey team for quite sometime, but Oltmans said they are making improvements in every aspect of the game, and doing it pretty fast.
“We are still improving and that is for me the most important thing. The team is still making progress and we want to make more progress in the last few months in the run up to the Olympics,” the coach said.
“I think we are getting more and more consistent to be honest and that’s good. Consistency is a matter of knowing exactly what to do while in possession and in non-possession and dare to execute plans no matter who is your opponent. I think we are getting closer and closer in achieving that.
“If you look at our performance against top teams one year back and our performance now you will see we have made a lot of progress. We are getting more and more consistent,” Oltmans concluded.