| New Delhi |
Published:December 29, 2016 11:12 am
If we put a few disappointments aside, it was one of the better years for Indian hockey. Not only did the players perform exceptionally on the field, off the field as well it was a year of growth for India. There were many highlights this year for India with biggest possibly being the junior team winning the World Cup after a 15 year period.
Even the senior team showed great signs of growth, especially with their show in the Champions Trophy and then winning the Asian Champions Trophy. Not to forget that they reached the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics as well.
Off the field, Hockey India president Narinder Batra became the president of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) after he was unanimously elected to the top in November this year. He is the first Indian and Asian to hold this post.
Being an Olympic year, 2016 was a also a reality check for India – eight-time Olympic gold medallists. All the hard work and preparations of the last three years would culminate into the biggest extravaganza for sports. And India didn’t necessarily disappoint – unlike the 12th and last place place finish at the London Olympics. They performed decently enough to reach the quarters, where they lost to Belgium.
The consecutive losses to Pakistan in the South Asian Games and only a quarters finish in Rio de Janeiro will hurt India the most this year. The twin losses to the arch-rivals in Guwahati added agony to Indian players and population with images of Pakistan players removing their shirts and celebrating at the 2014 Champions Trophy still fresh in their minds. It was India’s third straight loss to the neighbours.
After the unceremonious exits of Terry Walsh and Paul van Ass in the past two years, the reign for the Indian team was firmly in control of Roelant Oltmans and the off-the-field drama was averted in an Olympic year. At the Sultan of Azlan Shah Cup, which was the final big tournament in the prelude to the Olympics, India had a good run but the win was denied by an Australian dominant show that saw the Kookaburras win 4-0.
At the Champions Trophy in England, announced as the new venue after Argentina couldn’t fulfill the required hosting duties, India finished second right behind Australia.
India were denied agonisingly by the Tim Deavin led side to go down 3-1 in the penalty shoot out after the teams were locked 0-0 after the regulation 60 minutes. Despite the loss, India showed they belonged to the top level in world hockey. It was also their first silver medal in the tournament’s history.
At the Rio Olympics, the PR Sreejesh-led team impressed everyone in the league stages and made heads turn. The run was only cut short by Belgium in the quarters. In the pool stages, India had two wins in five games against Ireland and Argentina but lost to Germany and Netherlands while being held for a draw by Canada. This helped India to a fourth place finish in Pool B which was enough to move forward.
In the quarterfinal stages, Akashdeep Singh gave India the lead against Belgium but that was wiped off with a Sebastien Dockier brace and then a clincher by Tom Boon.
There was more history to this Olympics. The Indian women’s team qualified for the Games after a gap of 36 years but could not pull off an inspiring performance, finishing last in a 12-team competition. The eves could only draw once against Japan – in a come-from-behind 2-2 performance. But they were thumped 3-0 by Great Britain, 6-1 by Australia and 3-0 by United States to end the Summer Games on a sour note.
India avenged the SAF Games loss to Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy. They beat them 3-2 in the final to lift the title for the second time. The tournament allowed Sardar Singh to make his mark once again in the middle of the pitch after a long time with burden of captaincy gone and controversy surrounding his alleged fiance behind him. At Kuantan, Rupinder Pal Singh also stamped his mark with perfect defending and scoring 11 goals – mostly from the penalty corner – an area that has been India’s nemesis in the past.
Later, the Indian women’s team would also go on to lift the title.
The icing on the cake in hockey was the junior team’s exceptional effort to be crowned as World Champions in the World Cup. Beating teams like Australia, England and Belgium to lift the trophy will be a moment that most hockey fans will keep in their minds for long. For it to come in front of Indian fans who braved the tough cold conditions of Lucknow.
On the whole, it was a good year for India with a silver medal in the Champions Trophy, gold at the Asian Champions Trophy and then a win for the U19 hockey team to lift the World Cup. Away from it, the power centre of world hockey shifted from Europe to Asia.
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