Olympics-India defend for the win to fulfil hockey gold dream

  • Hockey
  • Wednesday, 10 Jul 2024

FILE PHOTO: Commonwealth Games - Men's Hockey- Pool B - India v Ghana - University of Birmingham Hockey and Squash centre, Birmingham, Britain - July 31, 2022 India's Singh Manpreet in action with Ghana's Christopher Dogbe REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - India broke a 41-year medal drought in Olympic men's hockey with a bronze in Tokyo three years ago, triggering hopes that a ninth gold medal for the once dominant power in the sport might be on the cards in Paris.

The majority of India's titles were won in a different era, when the game was played on grass pitches, often after soccer matches, and neighbours Pakistan were also a medal-winning force.

The age of the fast, flat astroturf has been dominated by three-times champions Germany with the Netherlands, Britain, Australia, Argentina and, most recently in Tokyo, Belgium also topping the podium.

It has been a similar picture at the quadrennial World Cup with Pakistan the dominant force in the early years and Germany clinching their third title in 2023.

In Hardik Singh India have the reigning World Player of the Year, the midfielder claiming the award after his skipper Manpreet Singh had taken it home the previous two years.

Manpreet, widely regarded as the best drag flicker in the world, said recently that the Tokyo bronze had Indians believing in their hockey team again and his close friend Lalit Kumar Upadhyay said the mission for the team in Paris was clear.

"We are looking forward to changing the colour of our medal from bronze to gold," forward Upadhyay told Reuters.

"Right now hockey is totally changed and anyone can beat anyone depending on the day. It depends on how many chances you create."

The crowded top 10 of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) rankings backs Upadhyay's analysis with the Dutch, England (Britain), Belgium, Australia, Germany and Argentina all bunched ahead of India.

India, who have five debutants and eight Singhs in their 16-man squad, will need to finish in the top four of a pool also featuring reigning champions Belgium, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and Ireland to get into the quarter-finals.

"We are working on our fitness and defensive structure because we all have the mantra 'defend for the win'," Upadhyay added.

"India is especially known for our counterattack, so we are looking to defend first. And if you have a good defence then definitely we can definitely have a good attack."

The word hockey derives from the French word hocquet, meaning 'shepherds crook', and the July 27 to Aug. 9 tournaments will take place in Colombes at what was the main stadium for the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Women's hockey had an inauspicious start at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 when all five teams invited to join the Soviet hosts boycotted the Games and stand-ins Zimbabwe won their only title.

The dominant Dutch women triumphed at the first attempt in 1984 and have won three of the last four gold medals, including in Tokyo when the Oranje beat Argentina 3-1 in the final.

The Netherlands have won nine of 15 World Cups and currently top the rankings ahead of Argentina and Germany.

Their 26-game winning streak since a loss to Australia's Hockeyroos in June 2023 was snapped in Utrecht on June 24, however, when Belgium beat them 2-1 at the FIH Hockey Pro League to claim their first victory over their neighbours in a top competition.

"I think certainly in preparation for the Olympics, it's nice to come here and win the game, so really cool," said Belgium's Helene Brasseur, who was named Player of the Match.

(Reporting by Forrest Crellin; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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