India gear up for Olympic hockey qualifiers

Updated: Feb 16, 2012, 16:23 PM IST

Zeenews Sports Bureau

Come Saturday, all eyes will be on the Indian hockey team when the London Olympic qualifiers kick start at Delhi’s Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium. A test series victory against South Africa recently at the same venue is expected to lift the team’s morale ahead of the big test.

With Canada, Poland and France on their path, it is unlikely that India will repeat another Beijing heartbreak--they lost to Great Britain at Santiago in March 2008 and failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That was the first time the Indian men`s team did not participate in the Olympics since 1928. However, this time round, qualifying for the Olympics should not come as a big task as India has an added advantage of playing on their own backyard.

The Indian hockey team, once the powerhouse in the international scene, still remains to be the most successful field hockey team in Olympic history. They won their first Olympic gold medal in 1928. From 1928 to 1956, the Indian men`s team remained unbeaten in the Olympics, garnering six gold medals in a row. The team has won a total of eight gold, one silver and two bronze medals in Olympics.

India’s biggest strength in the tournament, apart from goalkeeping, will be their drag flickers VR Raghunath and Sandeep Singh. The accuracy rate while converting penalty corners in recent times testify the same. Rupinder Pal Singh’s presence in the squad will also be an advantage.

If there is any team that can challenge the host team are the 18th-ranked Canada. With three players of Indian origin, including captain Ken Pereira, who last played against India during the Champions Challenge last year, Canada is a power-packed force to be reckoned with.

Coach Michael Nobbs was handed his Indian job with his task cut out: qualify for the 2012 London Olympics and avoid the repeat of 2008 embarrassment. Nobbs, who stresses on attacking style of play, appears to be on the right track to take India beyond the qualification.