Former Olympian Lazarus Barla has stated that the Indian hockey team should not take the matches in the FIH Series Finals lightly. The former defender also said that the Hockey India has selected the best available team for the tournament which will be the first step for the Olympic qualification.
With an aim of making it to the Tokyo Olympics which will be held next year, the Indian hockey team will take the first step in that direction during the FIH Series Finals. The eight-team event will be played from June 6 to June 15 in Bhubaneswar and the top two teams will make it to the final round of Olympic qualifications scheduled for later part of the year.
With teams ranked below India playing in the FIH Series Finals, the hosts might just find it too easy to make it to the next round of the Olympic qualifications. In the league stage of FIH Series Finals, India will meet Russia (rank 22), Poland (21) and Uzbekistan (43) in Group A. However, former India defender Barla has advised that the Indian team should not take the matches lightly and being over-confident might result in a loss for the team during the competition.
“India shouldn’t take the matches loosely. They should not take the teams lightly because their opponents are ranked low. If we take those matches in an over-confident manner, we might lose them. India will want to win the matches with a good margin. The team will go full throttle as a draw or a poor goal margin against some of the teams might give other teams more confidence against India. The Indian players should think all the teams in the tournament as better than them and have the ability to beat India. India will try to give their best against all the opponents,” Barla told SportsCafe.
“FIH Series Finals will be important and all the matches are going to be crucial. The biggest challenge for the team is to qualify for the Olympics. India have selected the best available team for the tournament. The team management will not experiment and not take any chances in these matches. The mindset will be to give their best in the tournament.”
Experienced forward Ramandeep Singh is making a comeback after a gap of nine years in international hockey. He was injured and was not even a part of the Manpreet Singh-led side that played the World Cup in 2018 December. According to Barla, Ramandeep’s inclusion will bring in some positivity in the Indian attack during the upcoming event.
“Ramandeep is someone who has good skills inside the D. The finishing in the D area in terms of scoring goals is very good for Ramandeep as compared to others. I think he is fully fit and if that is the case, it will be a big positive for the team,” explained Barla, who represented India at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and World Cup in 2002.
Barla, who himself was a defensive mainstay in the Indian side along with his state-mate and former skipper Dilip Tirkey, also talked about the lack of experience in the Indian defence. He said, “There is a need of experienced players in the defence. The process of defence starts from the forwards, not only the defenders need to be aware to defend the ball, overall team in the modern hockey needs to defend. The defence starts from the forward line itself. If there is a breach even in the midfield that might prove dangerous for the team. The players should understand the responsibility on them and need to perform as a team.”
India were knocked out of the 2018 World Cup in the quarter-final against the Netherlands and after that, the then head coach Harendra Singh was asked to step down from his post in the senior team. India had played the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in March without a chief coach and now the Indian team is having the services of Australian Graham Reid at the helm of the affairs. The FIH Series Finals will be the first major event for the team under Reid’s guidance. The team had travelled to Australia last month as a part of the preparations for the FIH Series.
“Graham Reid is new in India no doubt. It will be important for him to understand the team and the players to understand the coach. Harendra knew well about the players as he was an Indian coach. Reid might take time to read the players and set a proper understanding with them, said Barla.
Meanwhile, the Indian team suffered two back-to-back defeats by big margins during the tour Down Under and converting the penalty corners into goals was a concern for them. India, however, had experienced drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh then. In the recently-announced 18-member squad for the upcoming eight-team event, the Indian side has only Harmanpreet Singh for the short corners along with Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas, both of them are not regulars.
“The penalty corner specialists in India are not really the specialists in the truest sense as compared to the foreign teams. In India, they lack some skill and that’s why they fail to convert the PCs. All three - injector, stopper and the drag-flicker matter a lot in converting a PC. The understanding between the three counts a lot and they need to practice hard. There needs to be some variation during the matches while executing the PCs.
"Rupinder had scored a lot of goals through drag flicks. Had he been fully fit, he could have got a chance in the team for the tournament and that could have proved effective for the team,” Barla signed off.
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