August 13, 2016 4:40:47 am
ON THURSDAY evening, even as the Indian hockey team lost 1-2 to the Netherlands in their penultimate league encounter in Rio Olympics, players and coaches in the city were also keeping a watch on the Germany-Argentina encounter. As Argentina managed a 4-4 draw with Germany, it meant that the Indian hockey team made it to the knock-out stage in Olympics after 36 years with the 1980 Moscow Olympics being the last time when India made it to the knock-out stage.
Former Chandigarh Hockey and Football Academy trainee Rupinderpal Singh currently leads the Indian scorers’ list with three goals so far in the tournament. Even though India played a 2-2 draw with Canada in their last league encounter on Friday, the Indian team will be featuring in the quarter-finals in Rio.
Former Indian goalkeeper Baljit Singh Dadhwal, who was India’s first choice goalkeeper in the late 2000s before a career-threatening eye injury, has seen Indian hockey team from close and believes that the team has matched the other teams in Rio. “The Indian team matched Netherlands in every aspect in the match and it was unfortunate that we could not convert the penalty corners in the last minute. But the way Sreejesh has led the team is commendable and he has proved his worth by making some brilliant saves. Coach Rollent Oltmans showed that the team is willing to play attacking hockey when he played without goalkeeper for the last four minutes of the match. Rupinder has already scored almost half of Indian goals scored and I am sure he will be hungry for more. To be in the knock-out stage will give India confidence and the Indian forwards will think of scoring against Australia, Spain or Belgium, whoever they face in the quarters,” said Dadhwal, who was once ranked fourth in goalkeeper rankings in the world and was also part of the Indian team which won the Asia Cup in 2007.
The Indian hockey team under the leadership of goalkeeper P R Sreejesh had finished second in the Champions Trophy earlier in June this year and started their Rio campaign with a 3-2 win over Ireland before losing 1-2 to Germany. Amritsar youngster Harmanpreet Singh, who is currently studying in Chandigarh, did show his form against the Netherlands on Thursday when he created chances in the last quarter of the game. “The format has been changed and the quarter-finals has meant that the top eight teams can still be in contention for the medal. It was good to see Harmanpreet doing well in the opposition D but our forwards need to score more and create more opportunities. Raghunath has also done well and we now have to play total hockey where our defence is as strong as our attack. If we would have won against Canada, then the momentum would have been with us. In the knock-out stage, if we feel that the match is going for a draw, we should be ready for the penalty shoot-out,” said former Indian hockey skipper Rajpal Singh.
Coach Gurminder Singh has also seen Rupinderpal Singh from close as a trainee at the Chandigarh academy and the coach believes that variation will be the key for the tall lad. “Rupinderpal has gained confidence in the last two years. But scoring goals against top goalkeepers like Jacobi or Stockmann will help the team further in the tournament and the defenders will also be the key in the knock-out stage,” said the coach.
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