New Delhi: It was dejà vu for Indian hockey team that went into the 2004 Olympics riddled with factional fights and controversy over the appointment of German Gerhard Rach as the coach, superseding Rajinder Singh, just before the Athens Games.
Rach, hitherto unknown in hockey circles and with a police record, was the Indian Hockey Federation`s surprise choice as was the selection of veteran Dhanraj Pillay, who was originally not included in the list of probables.
At 35, Pillay, playing in his fourth Olympics, did not have a good tournament and there were also whispers of dissension and rebellion against Rach by some of the players who were unhappy with the tactics and strategies adopted by the German. Consequently, the team never got into its stride as reflected in the results.
Adding to India`s misery was the growing list of injuries, including that of key forward Deepak Thakur who was hospitalised due to breathing problems. As Pillay was to write in his column after the competition, India at times could barely get 11 fit players for a match.
Three defeats in their opening four group matches effectively put India out of contention for the medal rounds as they drew with Argentina and the only win was against South Africa. Worse was to follow as India went down to arch rivals Pakistan in the classification playoff before scrambling to victory against Korea to finish seventh.
It brought to an end a dismal run that was a reflection of warped selection and administrative goof-ups that were a harbinger of more bad times, culminating in India`s failure to qualify for the Olympics four years hence and for the first time in eight decades.
It was a massive climb-down for the once kings of hockey.
Indian team: Dilip Tirkey (captain), Devesh Singh Chauhan, Baljeet Singh Dhillon, Adrian D`Souza, Arjun Halappa, Dhanraj Pillay, Vikram Pillay, Viren Rasquinha, Adam Sinclair, Gagan Ajit Singh, Harpal Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Sandeep Singh, Deepak Thakur Sonkhia, Ignace Tirkey, William Xalco.
League - India lost to Netherlands 1-3 (Gagan Ajit Singh 1).
India beat South Africa 4-2 (Dhanraj Pillay 1; Baljeet Dhillon 1; Dilip Tirkey 1; Gagan Ajit Singh 1).
India lost to Australia 3-4 (Deepak Thakur 1; Gagan Ajit Singh 1; Arjun Halappa 1).
India lost to New Zealand 1-2 (Dhanraj Pillay 1).
India drew with Argentina 2-2 (Gagan Ajit Singh 2).
Classification play-off (5-8 positions): India lost to Pakistan 0-3. For 7-8 positions: India beat Korea 5-2 (Gagan Ajit Singh 2; Vikram Pillay 1; Prabhjot Singh 1; Adam Sinclair 1).
Positions: 1. Australia; 2. Holland; 3. Germany; 4. Spain; 5. Pakistan; 6. New Zealand; 7. India; 8. South Korea; 9. Great Britain; 10.South Africa; 11.Argentina; 12. Egypt.