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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Olympics: India face formidable Holland in opener

Riverbank Arena, the hockey venue, is finally bustling with activity. Three days ago, workers were driving home the final nails into the makeshift stands while volunteers were still trying to figure out entrance and exit routes.


On Sunday, the arena looked ready for action as the Indians trooped in late in the afternoon for a light practice session.It will take time getting used to the blue turf here, but any colour is welcome if the Men in Blue can manage to get going. The missed bus to Beijing had raised fears of an extended exile, but Aussie coach Michael Nobbs has ensured that India get their rightful place back in the world of stick masters.They begin first on Monday against The Netherlands, a bunch of top dogs who have been playing together for almost five years. The men in orange, ranked third in the world behind Australia and Germany, play a level above the Indians but it will boil down to making opportunities count.For India, ranked No. 10 in the world, it is all about punching above their weight. The team is not very experienced and has not played regularly at the top level. What should work for them is the fact that they have key players in key positions to rattle the Dutch.The team trained on the blue turf for the past three months and even played at this venue a month back in a four-nation tournament. The new turf has settled down and should see a fast and furious game of hockey.The key lies in the midfield with playmaker Sardar Singh, who will have to shine like the singer he loves, Chamkila. Sardar will be supported by Gurbaj Singh, Birendra Lakra and Manpreet Singh in the feeder line.WHAT MIGHT WORKIndia’s strike force is capable of being unstoppable on its day. Coach Michael Nobbs and trainer David Jones made fitness a priority and now the team is almost on par with the top teams in terms of speed, agility and stamina. The team has also changed its style of play which will work to its advantage.WHAT MIGHT NOTCoach Nobbs may have reinvigorated the attack but he couldn’t do much about the defence . With Sandeep Singh and VR Raghunath not the best of defenders, they may end up conceding too many. Can the strikers score enough to make up for that? The new blue turf too could pose a challenge, especially as India haven’t really adapted to it yet.KEY PLAYERSSardar Singh, Sandeep Singh, SV SunilSQUADGoalkeepers: Bharat Chetri (Capt.), PR Sreejesh; Defenders: VR Raghunath, Ignace Tirkey, Sandeep Singh; Mid-fielders : Sardar Singh (vice-captain ), Gurbaj Singh, Birendra Lakra, Manpreet Singh; Forwards: SV Sunil, Gurwinder Singh Chandi, Shivendra Singh, Danish Mujtaba, Tushar Khandker, Dharamvir Singh, SK Uthappa; Standbys: Sarwanjit Singh, Kothajit Singh.India’s pool: India, The Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, New Zealand, Belgium.

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