Sticking to the script : The Tribune India

19th Asian Games Hangzhou

Sticking to the script

4 days to go: Starting with team games, The Tribune takes a look at India’s medal hopefuls

Sticking to the script

Craig Fulton’s men arrive at the continental event on the back of winning the Asian Champions Trophy comfortably. File photo

Tribune News Service

Indervir Grewal

Chandigarh, September 18

It has been five years since the Indian hockey teams faltered in their bid to capture the biggest crown in Asia. The men, favourites to defend their title, failed to reach the final for only the fourth time in the tournament’s history. The women fell agonisingly short of a second title after entering only their third final at the event.


A lot has changed since the Jakarta heartbreaks. Both teams have new coaches, third for the men. Both teams saw historic highs — the men won an Olympics medal (bronze) after 41 years and the women finished fourth after entering the Olympics semifinals for only the second time. Both teams were taken down a peg after finishing ninth in the following World Cups.

Despite the disappointments, the Indian teams have risen in stature in world hockey. Their performances in the Pro League have shown that they can consistently challenge the top teams. In their three appearances, the men once finished third and twice fourth. The women finished third in their only appearance, and have also qualified for the next season. The Indian teams have been the most consistent among the Asians in recent years, which is reflected in their world rankings.

In fact, the world No. 3 Indian men’s team is the clear favourite on paper — Malaysia are ranked 10th, South Korea 12th, Pakistan 15th and defending champions Japan 19th. The men have rarely lost to an Asian opponent in the pool stages of a tournament in the last decade.

However, their inability to get over the line in crunch knockout matches has kept them from winning more titles in Asia. In 12 Asian Games final appearances, India have won only three times, and that too either in extra-time or shootout.

India coach Craig Fulton admits that making the Indian players mentally stronger will be his biggest challenge. Fulton would be pleased by the fighting spirit shown by his team in the final of the Asian Champions Trophy recently. After trailing 0-2 and 1-3, India beat Malaysia 4-3.

The No. 7 women’s team, though, will not be the clear favourites, with No. 8 China and reigning champions and 10th-ranked Japan as the other top contenders. In their last four games against China, India have won thrice, with one ending in a draw. India have won two and lost one in their last three meetings with Japan.

Under coach Janneke Schopman, the Indian team has shown the same attacking ability and defensive discipline that earned it success under Sjoerd Marijne. With Paris Olympics berths on the line, the Indian teams will be under intense pressure. Form and rankings notwithstanding, India will have to perform in high-pressure matches to stamp their continental dominance.

“I believe the mindset will make the difference. Can we perform under pressure? We have talked about this over the past couple of months and what it means to not be the underdogs,” Schopman said.

“We have spoken about the expectations from this team. We have also addressed what dangers are out there that might cause distraction, and trip us up, and how we can deal with the same,” she added.


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