FIH Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup | Dutch legend Bram Lomans says India has a good chance of winning the tourament

FIH Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup | Dutch legend Bram Lomans says India has a good chance of winning the tourament

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(Hockey India)

1998 was the time when Men's Hockey World Cup-Winner and two-time Olympic Gold medalist Bram Lomans, revolutionized the sport with his drag flicking skills during the late 1990s. The Dutch team had begun preparations for the World Cup more than two years before the start of the tournament.

Bram Lomans, a relatively new member of the team at the time, recalled how the country's sporting atmosphere began to shift. "We knew the major tournament was going to happen at home. We began preparations two years ago. When we first visited the stadium, it was a football field and football was still being played there. And then we went the second time, we saw the workers cutting grass. Slowly and steadily, we saw the atmosphere and mood in the country shift towards hockey and it was really special for us," the former Dutch defender said.

The Netherlands team had just won the Gold medal at the 1996 Olympics and there was a lot of buzz in the media ahead of the 1998 Men's Hockey World Cup. The fans were eager to see the home team perform and there were high expectations from the Netherlands team to claim the Gold medal at home. However, despite the hype, Lomans insisted he felt no pressure heading into the tournament.

"We were quite confident. I do not remember having a lot more pressure being the Olympic champions, but I do remember there was a lot more media and fan attention. In the Netherlands, the expectations are always high and the fans can also be quite critical, much like the fans in India. So, there is always pressure to do good. But it's the best experience you can get, playing hockey at home, so I was really excited about it," Lomans said.

The Netherlands had a great start to their 1998 Men's Hockey World Cup campaign, defeating Canada and India by large margins in their first two games. The Dutch team then lost to Germany before beating South Korea and New Zealand to advance to the Semi Finals. The Netherlands advanced to the Final after a stunning 6-2 win over Australia in the Semi Finals, where they defeated Spain 3-2 in a thriller to win the trophy.

When asked about his favourite memory from the competition, Bram recalled his goal against Korea and described how it changed the course of the competition for him.

"I was unable to score from penalty corners in the first two or three matches. Then, against Korea, I scored one. I wanted to go towards the right, but the ball got stuck in the hook of my stick and went towards the other side, into the back of the nets. The goal lifted the pressure off me and then I ended up scoring a lot of them towards the end of the tournament which really helped the team," he said.

"It was the most remarkable moment for me because it was something that went wrong that resulted in a positive way for us," Lomans added.

He went on to recall how Spain's Juan Escarre's untimely injury in the Final aided the Netherlands in the summit clash. Lomans also described Teun de Nooijer's brilliant strategy, which led to his trophy-winning goal.

"We played so well in the Semi-Final against Australia to reach the Final and we thought we were so close now. But Spain completely outplayed us for the most part in the Final. They were so good," Lomans said.

"Spain's Juan Escarre, who was playing so well and was really toying with us, tore his hamstring, and that turned the game around. We got on level terms with two late goals and then the match went into extra time and it used to be the golden goal rule at that time. Teun de Nooijer saw that every time my flicks were being saved, the ball was just dropping in front of the goalkeeper. So, at one point, he just ran as I flicked, the goalkeeper saved and the ball landed right in front of Nooijer's stick and he struck it in. It worked out perfectly for us," he added.

With the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela just around the corner, which is set to begin on January 13th, Lomans revealed his favourites for the tournament. Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, India, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, England, France, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Chile, and Wales are the 16 teams, who will be competing in the tournament.

"I think if India can cope with the enormous pressure, and if the players do not get too excited, they have a really good chance to win. India have got good strikers, good corner-takers, and a good goalkeeper. So they have all the ingredients to go far," the former Netherlands international said.

"If they get too excited or emotional, then it can fall apart. But if they can keep their focus, then they are one of the biggest candidates, along with Australia. The Netherlands are also always good. They have improved a lot in the past few tournaments, so I expect them to do well. You also have Belgium, Argentina, and England are also doing reasonably well. So, there are at least six-seven teams who might be on top. It will be extremely interesting because it is tight and that is what hockey needs," he added.

India are in Group D, alongside Spain, England, and Wales. Lomans, who is credited with popularising drag flicking in the late 1990s, is currently in India for special drag flicking training sessions with the Indian Men's Hockey Team at the SAI Centre in Bengaluru. Lomans lauded Indian drag flicker Harmanpreet Singh and explained why he is so successful.

"Harmanpreet Singh has a relaxed attitude about him. He is really good because he knows his strengths and his qualities and he just goes for it. He does not stress about it too much when he is taking a penalty corner, even though I am sure the pressure will be enormous on him. But he has that calmness around him that helps him get the job done," Lomans said.

The former Dutch penalty corner specialist further added that India have a strong pool of young drag flickers which will help the team at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela.

"The biggest strength of the current Indian team is that they have 4-5 really good penalty corner takers who can score. If they all can chip in, it will take the pressure off Harmanpreet Singh. The quality is high and I am honoured I can help them out. There are also some really good talents at the U-21 camp, who can come up in the future," he signed off.

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