Tomorrow Hockey India are expected to announce their team for the Rio Olympics and there is great expectation in the country that has won 8 Olympic Gold medals in the sport, although the last one was 36 years ago. India believe this time around they have a team that can medal.
Certainly the potential is there, they will just have to be at their very best in Rio. As we said in India Definitely One to Watch in Rio they will need to beat the top sides in a major competition, which they have not done for a while.
The other key component will be the squad that coach Roelant Outmans selects.
There are a few question marks over the squad. First of all will World class defender Brenda Lakra be included in the squad? He had his first outing at the six nation invitational tournament in Spain since injuring his ACL in the Hockey India League February and by all accounts looked hesitant and ‘underdone.’ It may be a huge risk taking him when top strikers in the world will target him, and his fitness.
This decision will make it easier in terms of who would have been left out between Rupinder Pal Singh, VR Raghunath and Harmanpreet Singh. Three very lethal drag flickers, so all very important in an attacking sense. So it would have come down to who had the best defensive skills and was the most solid at the back. Without Lakra, expect all three to be selected.
The midfield is going to be the key for India. At the Champions Trophy India moved the ball through midfield quickly and efficiently and there is no better sight that when they do this.
Captain Sardar Singh was rested for the Champions Trophy and coach Roelant Outmans has already spoken to the Indian media this week and said that Manpreet Singh will be the key man in midfield and that he sees Sardar being used in a position further forward up the pitch, playing behind the forwards. A role similar to the one that is now frequently referred to in football as “the number 10.”
Sardar was used in this role to great effect against the Netherlands in Raipur when India won bronze in a shoot out following a 5-5 draw. His superb stick work and vision was a key to India not only coming from behind but also hitting the front in the match.
With Sardar playing such a role the question comes down to which forwards will be given the task of linking up with him. India have a wealth of choices, Mandeep Singh, Ramandeep, Akashdeep, Nikkin Thiammiah, and Talwinder. SV Sunil as vice captain of the team in recent times and in the form of his life must be assured his place.
Mandeep combined really well with SV Sunil in London, but one feels that Ramandeep and Akashdeep will get the nod ahead of him. Outmans had the former at UP Wizards in the HIL and recruited the latter for 2016, so will have worked with them both a little more. Then it comes down to which player from the three remaining will be selected. Talwinder in Raipur did link well with Sardar when he pushed forward. Nikkin was under an injury cloud at that time but has fought his way back to form. All three are very different players and all three have their won strengths. Does the role go on form or on reputation? Or will it come down to who gels best with Sardar?
The top teams in the World will be looking on with interest as to the make up of the Indian side selected. They know that on their day India now can cause an upset, but the key for the coach, and the expectant nation, is that the team chosen for Rio blends well and each player compliments those around him. If one cog is not functioning in harmony with the rest, then hopes of a medal for the first time in 36 years at an Olympic Games will soon be dashed.
A nation waits on tenterhooks for the announcement tomorrow. India expects.