They might have failed to qualify for the Olympic Games semifinals here, but the Indian men’s hockey team has shown it belongs to the big stage and could emerge as a serious medal contender four years hence.
In 2012, at the London Olympics, the eight-time gold medallists endured a disastrous campaign to finish 12th and last after failing to even qualify four years earlier in Beijing.
This time around the Men in Blue showcased the progress they have made in the last four years under the programme put in place by Dutch master strategist Roelant Oltmans, the team’s head coach.
It’s, thus, vital that for achieving a podium finish at the 2020 Tokyo Games the process put in place by Oltmans is continued unhindered.
Going into the Games, India’s realistic target was to progress to the quarter-finals and as Oltmans said thereafter everything depended on performance on the given day.
The Indians managed to achieve their initial goal of making the knock out phase after a huge gap of 36 years.
And the way they played in the pool stage, especially against top sides like reigning champions Germany and former gold medal winners Netherlands, raised the hopes of millions following them back home.
But eventually they had to face the reality that there is still some time and miles to travel before they become serious medal contenders.
In the Games here the team started on a nervous note against minnows Ireland, but managed to eke out a 3-2 win.
But India soon pulled up their socks and dished out inspirational performances against Germany and Netherlands before silly errors in the final stages cost them the points.
Against Germany India conceded a goal three seconds from the final hooter to lose 1-2. The script remained unaltered against the Netherlands as they gave away unnecessary penalty corners in the final 10 minutes to again lose by a 1-2 margin.
However, the Indians got their act together just in time to beat Argentina 2-1, but what cost them dearly was the uninspiring 2-2 draw against lowly Canada in their last league game.