A win in the opening match of the Olympics after a hiatus of 12 years, notwithstanding, Indian men’s hockey team will have to lift their game by a notch if they want to challenge the might of reigning Olympic champions Germany in their second pool ‘B’ match on Monday.
India were made to toil hard by minnows Ireland yesterday to register a fighting 3-2 win, their first in the sporting extravaganza in 12 years.
Going by world rankings, India (5th) were the clear favourites to dominate the match against Ireland (12th). Expectedly, the PR Sreejesh-led side started on a bright note and played to their potential in the for majority of the match but they handed the initiative to their opponents in the final quarter.
While dragflickers Rupinder Pal Singh (2 goals) and VR Raghunath (1 goal) were bang on target with penalty corners, the forwardline was not upto the mark, missing plenty of scoring chances.
Sreejesh was alert as usual in front of the Indian goal, making quite a few saves but the defence, their perennial problem, was found wanting when the Irish had put relentless pressure in the final quarter, thereby conceding as many as eight penalty corners.
But come on Monday, the Indians cannot afford to commit the same mistakes against the Germans, who will be eyeing a hat-trick of Olympic golds having pocketed the yellow metal in the last two Games in 2008 Beijing and 2012 London.
Their record against Germany at the Olympics also doesn’t go in India’s favour. India last won a match against Germany in the Olympics way back in the 1996 Atlanta Games where they registered a 3-0 win in the opening match.
In Sydney and Athens, India never played the Germans as they featured in different pools. However four years ago in London, Germany comprehensively beat India 5-2.
In the recent past India have had mixed results against the Germans.
India recently played Germany in the the FIH Champions Trophy in London, where the Sreejesh-led side won a historic silver.
In the Champions Trophy, India took an early 3-1 lead before making defensive errors in the last quarter to draw the encounter 3-3.
But India’s campaign against Germany did not go as planned in the recently-held six-nations tournament in Valencia where they lost 0-4 to a full strength German team.
The strong German squad comprises of five Olympic gold medallists from London, and midfielder-turned-defender Moritz Fürste, who is considered among the best players in the world.
22-year-old striker Christopher Rühr and Florian Fuchs are the other players to watch out for in the German squad, which is currently ranked No.3 in the world.
Germany started their campaign on a rampaging note, thrashing Canada 6-2 in another Pool B match at the Olympic Hockey Centre yesterday.
Besides Furste, Niklas Wellen also scored two goals for Germany while Mathias Muller and Linus Butt were the other goal getters.
India’s chief coach Roelant Oltmans knows the importance of tomorrow’s game and said his boys will have to give more than 100 per cent if they are to upstage Germany tomorrow.
“I have studied them (Germans) in the Champions Trophy and they are a very strong team. But I do see some opportunities in the game for us and to execute it, we will have to give more than our 100 percent,” stated Chief Coach Roelant Oltmans post the opening match victory on Saturday.
“A win is a win and I don’t wish to talk about the mistakes. We had tweaked the team’s structure a bit to counter the Irishmen. I am happy the boys stuck to the plan and executed it. Playing Germany will be different and we will need a different game plan,” the Dutchman added.
India’s captain Sreejesh is optimistic about a win against Germany tomorrow.
“Though we won narrowly against Ireland, the team is motivated. What matters is that we have started on a winning note and have earned three points. We are pumped up and we always enjoy taking on big teams like Germany. I am sure we will put up a tough fight against them,” said Sreejesh.