Veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh believes 2021 is going to be the biggest year for Indian hockey and the team can surely win the elusive Olympic medal at the Tokyo Games if they play to their full potential.
The Indian team had started preparations for the Olympics in an emphatic manner earlier this year during their maiden Hockey Pro League campaign. They registered a 5-2 and 3-3 (3-1) win against the Netherlands, followed by a 2-1 win and 3-4 loss against World Champions Belgium and 3-4 loss and 2-2 (3-1) win against Australia before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the competition.
"Having achieved our best ranking ever of being 4th in the world, I feel like there is not much of a difference now, we have shown that in our FIH Pro League matches earlier this year, that we can beat anyone, and not just beat, but also dominate them with our style of play," Sreejesh was quoted as saying by Hockey India.
The Tokyo Olympics were scheduled to be played this year but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been postponed till summer of 2021.
"With one year left for our preparations, I think it is going to be the biggest tournament for me as well, and something tells me that it is going to be a huge year for Indian hockey, and we can really bring that elusive Olympic medal back to our country if we perform to our potential in Tokyo next year," said Sreejesh.
Sreejesh also recalled his Olympic journey which began in 2012. "Just like the millions of fans of Indian hockey, I have also had a very specific dream throughout my career, and that has been to win an Olympic medal for my country."
"The first time I stepped out as an Olympian in 2012 at the London Olympics, it was an experience I can never forget. Not because it was something that was very positive for me or our team, but because it was my first time at the biggest tournament in the world.
India had finished last in that tournament.
"We had a good team, but I think we struggled to finish off those teams and it costed us. That tournament was a chance for me to learn so much, but one thing that I always had in the back of my head was that I needed to go home as a medalist, not just as a participant.
The performance of the team improved a little bit in Rio, they still finished at a dismal eighth position.
"It did take me some time to recover from it, but whenever people would ask me about it, it felt like someone had put a dagger in my chest - it really hurt. Same was the case with the 2018 World Cup as well - but having seen teams like Argentina and Belgium do well in big tournaments, I really believe that we will also have that opportunity to achieve something with this team," he said.
India last won a gold in Hockey in 1980 in Moscow Olympics. Since then, they have participated in eight Olympic editions but have failed to make a podium finish.
The 32-year-old emphasised that the Tokyo Games is something that he is looking forward to with huge aspirations.
"We have managed to bring in so many improvements across various aspects of our game, with our fitness being even better than most teams in the world. I think we have really improved on our technical side of things with a good structure, and brought more flair and dynamism to our attacking.
"I see so many younger players also coming in and performing extraordinarily against the top teams, which was something you would rarely see before," he added.