In the end,it all fell in place for Indian mens hockey squad. They won the final of the Olympics qualifier against France,maintained their all-win record in the tournament and,most importantly,were once again among world hockeys elite as they booked a berth for the London Games.
What was also heartening was they won by playing an attacking brand of hockey that had traditionally been Indias forte,but was lost somewhere in the last decade during a musical chair of foreign coaches. It took an Australian,in coach Michael Nobbs,to make the players realise their strength. As India beat France 8-1,taking their tournament goal tally to 44 from 6 games,around the Indian team bench there was a consensus that the man responsible was the ever-smiling coach.
Penalty corner specialist Sandeep Singhs five goals exemplified the teams ruthlessness. The Indians kept pressing the French though the result was never quite in doubt. While preparing for this tournament,Nobbs had repeatedly reminded the team that only a four-goal margin was considered a winning lead in modern hockey.
Indian teams of the past would have gone into a shell after the initial impasse or crumbled. On Sunday,there was no giving up. From physical jousting,verbal altercations to dazzling skills the Indians gave it their all. The forwards were falling back to defend,the defenders were lending a helping hand in attack. As for the mid-fielders,they never stopped running.
The French,meanwhile,appeared to run out of steam after the first half,a rare occurrence for a European team playing India. Nobbss emphasis on fitness was paying dividends,as from left,right and centre,the Indians kept coming in waves. The forwards kept setting up penalty corners,and Man of the Match Sandeep kept scoring.
As the Indian national anthem played after the trophy presentation,the Indians laughed and they cried,hearing it for the first time as winners on this ground.
I was in Chile,and I am here, said Tushar Khandker,the man who had created maximum chances for the team upfront through the competition. That defeat can be explained as one of the worst days for Indian hockey; today cannot be explained.