Rio De Janeiro, Brazil: PR Sreejesh led Indian hockey men’s team will begin their Olympic voyage on August 6 against minnows Ireland. While India is looking forward to end their 36-year-long Olympic medal drought in Rio, this will be Ireland’s first Olympic appearance after 1908 when they had earned a silver medal.
If we go by their recent records, Men’s team being ranked fifth in the FIH world rankings go in as favorites and will be riding on the confidence drawn from their win against Ireland at the Six Nations Tournament in Valencia, Spain, in June.
Speaking about the importance of the first match and the momentum it will set for the team, chief coach Roelant Oltmans said,“We want to begin on a winning note and carry the momentum forward in the following group stage matches. We do not want to undermine any team especially at an event like the Olympics where every team wants to win.” It is statement from a person who doesn’t like to leave any complacency across ranks, be it even in the psyche of the players. The Indian players who were not very well greeted by the Organising Committee at the Olympic Games Village wherein the Hockey India had to step in to provide some of the basic necessities. The team would like to get over the disappointment and go forward as a winning unit.
Critical nature of the match against Ireland is so much in the mind of the Indian captain, that he reflected back to the performances of the minnows over the past wherein they had put up an inspired show beating Malaysia and Pakistan at the 2015 FIH World League semis and moving forward with Australia’s Oceania Cup win, Ireland booked their berth to Rio. He further while describing the Irish team as unpredictable, said, “The Irish can be unpredictable. They have been doing well in the European Championships and are sturdy and fast on the ball. It won’t be an easy game to win and we will need to go full force.”
Given the past records of India at Olympics, India has not yet won an opening match at the Olympics since Sydney in 2000 where they had beaten Argentina 3-0 in their opener of the games. Post that, at Athens and London Olympics, India met Holland in their opener and was beaten by 3-1 and 3-2 respectively on both occasions.
India will be keen to negate the impact Ireland’s marquee players Mitch Darling, a forward who plays with Rotterdam and their captain and goalkeeper David Harte who won the world goalkeeper of the year award for 2015 will bring to the match.
The schedule of preliminary matches are shown below for the men’s team:
Moving over to the Indian eves, who’ll be in with their first Olympic appearance since Moscow 1980, 36 years hence they’ll face Japan to start with their Olympic campaign. Japan, is currently ranked 10th in the world, will be up against India on August 7. India led by formidable defender Sushila Chanu will try to replicate the match against Japan in the World Hockey League last year wherein they beat them, a match that kept the World no. 13 in contention for the Olympic qualification.
The Coach Neil Hawgood feels the importance on excitement of competing at this level and thinks that the girls are upbeat and are eager to make a mark at this Olympics. Speaking about the girls who are scheduled to meet Japan in their opener, Hawgood said, “The girls are excited and raring to get on with their first ever Olympic campaign. They have had a decent run in the tournament in the USA where we won a couple of games and will hope to convert the confidence from there into good result in the opening tie.”
The Indian Skipper Sushila Chanu feels that her girls are up for the challenge. Expressing her part of the story from the preparation phase, she said, “This is our first Olympics and we want to put up an inspired performance. We have done well against Japan in the past and we are able to execute the plans the coach has drawn for us, I am sure we will be able to succeed against them.”
Shown below is the match schedule for Indian Women’s team during preliminary stage: