By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) – Leaking late goals has been something of an Achilles’ heel for the Indian hockey team but captain Sardar Singh believes his team have addressed the issue as they head to Rio looking for the country’s first Olympic medal in 36 years.
Once-mighty India are the most decorated nation in the sport’s Olympic history but the South Asians collected the last of their eight gold medals way back at the Moscow Games in 1980.
Having failed to qualify for the Beijing Games in 2008, the team representing a nation of 1.3 billion people did recover to seal a spot at the London Games four years later only to finish last among the 12 countries taking part.
India, in Pool B along with Argentina, Canada, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands in Rio, have often been hamstrung by an inability to stay competitive in the final 15 minutes.
“We have worked a lot on not conceding goals at the end,” Singh, who has been rested for India’s Champions Trophy campaign in London, told Reuters. “The main thing is concentration.
“Hockey now is very fast and you need to focus every second in a match. The training sessions have been very good but it now depends on how we execute.”
India did concede a late goal in the 57th minute against South Korea on Tuesday but scored within seconds to go up 2-1 for a victory against their Asian rivals.
Under Dutchman Roelant Oltmans, who became India’s high performance director in 2013 and then was appointed coach last July, a relatively inexperienced team finished second behind Australia at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in April.
The team are currently second in their group behind Australia at the Champions Trophy, fuelling renewed hopes of a first Olympic medal in more than three decades.
“People follow hockey in India and they want results and so the expectations keep on increasing. But that is a good thing too,” Singh, 29, said
“The team is doing well in the last two years. The way we are training, the process we are going through has been good. The team is on the right track.
“It’s imperative that we execute our plans if we are to win a medal at the Olympics.”
The halfback said the current side gelled well both on the field and off it and their speedy forwards make India a dangerous side on the counter-attack.
Singh also feels coach Oltmans has had a big impact.
“Oltmans understands our culture, his understanding with the players on and off the field is good,” he said.
“We have a good understanding and can share anything with the coach. He likes attacking hockey which is also good.”
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)