Former India international Prabodh Tirkey has opined that the FIH Series Finals is an easy tournament for the Indians and they have to prepare well for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers to get an Olympic ticket. Prabodh was the captain of India when they failed to make it to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
According to the new norms of Olympic qualifications, the top two teams from the ongoing FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar will make it to the final round of the Olympic qualifications – the FIH Olympic Qualifiers – which will be played later this year. India has already made it to the semi-finals and they are only a step away from getting into the next event which is scheduled to be held in October-November this year.
This seems quite easy for the Manpreet Singh-led side as they are the highest-ranked among all other sides in the competition as per the former India skipper Prabodh Tirkey. Prabodh, who was the captain of the team in the 2008 qualifying event in China, has said that there will be enormous pressure on the teams when they enter the last round of the Olympic qualifications.
“This is the first round and in the second round, there will be better teams to face. There we have to perform well. This one is easy according to me. The players have to put in good effort from now, from this tournament to make themselves ready for the important matches coming up next for Olympic qualifications,” Prabodh told SportsCafe.
“If we would have won the Asian Games, we would have qualified for the Olympics. Last year you saw we lost in the semi-finals against Malaysia. At times, the Indian players take the Asian Games casually. Now it might be a tough task to qualify for the Olympics. We have to win the qualifying matches to qualify for the Olympics and this puts a lot of pressure on the players. All top teams will be there and the matches will be in pressure cooker situations. The present team is very good and I don’t think that they will not make it to the Olympics. They will certainly qualify. The players are talented and have been playing together for a longer period. The morale of the team is quite high.”
India had lost 0-2 to Great Britain back in March 2008 in the final of the Olympics qualifying tournament which denied Prabodh and co. a chance to enter the Beijing Olympics. That performance by the Indian team is considered as one of the darkest phases of the sport in the country. However, India played the next two Olympics in 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio Games.
“It was unfortunate to miss out in the qualification round for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. There was a lot of pressure on the team because the qualifying matches are all about winning matches continuously,” recalled the former India skipper.
India has appointed Australian Graham Reid as Harendra Singh’s successor and the FIH Series Finals is the first major event for him. He has the challenge of taking the Indian team into the Olympics and also ensure that the team does well in the Tokyo Games next. The first tour for Reid was to Australia and it has been only a couple of months since the Australian took over as the chief coach. Prabodh said that one can’t judge the coach’s performance from the matches against lower-ranked teams.
“We are seeing him for the first time and the coach is doing well after taking over the team after Harendra Singh. The FIH series finals don’t have good teams so we are unable to know how good he is. No doubt he must have prepared well and guided the players well but in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers (to be held later this year), we can judge what talent does he have and how is he making the players get ready. In this tournament, we are from a higher level as compared to other teams like South Africa, Japan, Uzbekistan,” Prabodh explained.
Prabodh praised the Indian forwards for their good show in Bhubaneswar and their ability to create chances up top. He had played with the current forwards’ coach Shivendra Singh in the Indian team and is of the opinion that Shivendra’s inclusion will have a positive impact on the Indian side considering the former international striker’s experience at the highest level.
“Shivendra Singh was a very good forward. He has a very good hockey mind and a unique game plan. He has the experience and represented India at the highest level. If the forwards play according to Shivendra’s plans and advice, they will certainly excel in the coming days.
“Ramandeep was performing really well in the last few years but he was unfortunate to get injured. Now he has made a comeback. He is trying to score from whatever opportunities he is getting in the D. With him in the team, the forward unit has become stronger. Akashdeep and Mandeep are there as well. So India is having a strong forward line,” the former midfielder stated.
At the end of the interview, the Sundergarh player expressed his delight over the appointment of Birendra Lakra as the vice-captain of the Indian team. Apart from Prabodh, star defender Dilip Tirkey and Prabodh’s elder brother Ignace Tirkey were the other players from Odisha who had also led the national side in the past.
“I am very happy that a player from Odisha is the vice-captain of the Indian team. We always support Birendra Lakra as a player and treat him like my younger brother. He is an experienced man in the defence. Being a vice-captain of the national team is a big thing for us and for Odisha. He is continuing in the team for a long time now and some good performance has ensured that he gets the vice-captaincy duties in the side,” Prabodh signed off.