A series of confident performances paves the way for the Indian hockey team to kickstart their Tokyo campaign on 24 July, 2021 against New Zealand.
Indian hockey and the Olympics have a special connection in history. As we approach another Olympics, the 11-time medallists leave for Tokyo with hopes of a podium finish again.
Indians will kick start their Tokyo campaign from July 24 when they take on New Zealand in their first Group ‘A’ match.
Road to Tokyo
Playing his third Olympics, midfielder Manpreet Singh has been given the task to lead the men in blue in Tokyo. Under Manpreet’s captaincy for the last four years, the Indian team won the Asia Cup in 2017, the Asian Champions Trophy in 2018 as well as the FIH Series Final in 2019. India also made it to the quarterfinals of the FIH Men’s World Cup 2018 in Bhubaneswar.
They entered 2021 ranked fourth in the World after their performance in the maiden FIH Pro League campaign before everything came to a halt in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Indian team that finished a dismal eighth in the 2016 Rio Olympics, had made an emphatic start to the league with 5-2 and 3-3 (3-1) wins against the Netherlands, followed by a 2-1 win and 3-4 loss against Belgium, a 3-4 loss and 2-2 (3-1) win against Australia before Covid-19 abruptly brought the competition to a stop.
It’s on the back of performances like these that India look to better their quarterfinal finish in Rio. However, coach Graham Reid is working with a squad that does not boast of experience. Amit Rohidas, Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Nilakanta Sharma, Sumit, Shamsher Singh, Dilpreet Singh, Gurjant Singh and Lalit Kumar Upadhyay are the ten players who will make their Olympic debut.
The 16-member team also includes six seasoned campaigners like the former skipper and goalkeeper Sreejesh, defenders Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh and Surender Kumar and forward Mandeep Singh.
Challenges in Tokyo
India might have dominated the sport in the 20th Century but it is a different ball game now. Leaving for Tokyo on Saturday (July 17), the Indians look to break their winless streak at the Olympics, having returned from the Summer Games without a medal eight consecutive times. India last won a medal – gold – in hockey at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
The 12 participating countries are divided into two groups and every team will have to play each other before the top four of each group advances to the next stage.
Group A: Argentina, Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Spain
Group B: Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, South Africa
July 25: India vs Australia (3pm.IST)
July 27: India vs Spain (6.30am IST)
July 29: India vs Argentina (6am IST)
August 1: Quarterfinals
August 3: Semifinals
August 5: Bronze Medal
August 5: Final (3.30 pm IST)
India have faced every other team than Spain since 2019 and beaten them. The team has shown a lot of promise in the last few years and look to end 41-year-old medal drought.
India won its first gold medal at the 1948 Olympics by defeating Great Britain in the final. It was the first gold medal for India as an independent nation. They continued their dominance by winning the sixth straight title by defeating Pakistan in the final of the 1956 Olympics (India had won four golds in hockey pre-Independence).
In the 1960 Olympics, the team had to settle for the silver medal. Though the team bounced back by winning gold at the 1964 edition, India settled for bronze medals in the next two Games.
In the 1976 Games, India went home empty-handed, the first time since 1928. But they returned stronger than before, winning their record eighth and last title till date at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.
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