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Top-4 finish in London not impossible: Ex-players

Top-4 finish in London not impossible: Ex-players

Former players said a top-four finish at the Olympics "is a tall ask but not impossible" for India.

New Delhi: Former players lavished praise on the Indian hockey team and its Australian coach Michael Nobbs for convincingly qualifying for the London Olympics, and said a top-four finish there "is a tall ask but not impossible" for the eight-time champions.

India put up a superlative performance and routed France 8-1 in the final of the men's Olympic qualifiers on Sunday to keep a date with the London Games after missing out on the Beijing edition four years ago.

Even though they were gung-ho about the home team's performance in the just-concluded Olympic qualifiers, the yesteryear stars of the game were unanimous in pointing out that India need to address their grey areas before the London Games in July-August.

"It was an excellent performance from the team. It was heartening to see India play as a team. Full marks to Michael Nobbs for bringing the attacking style of hockey back to India. We Indians are used to playing attacking hockey, it is our own style," Zafar Iqbal, a member of India's last Olympic gold medal-winning team in 1980, told PTI.

"To qualify for the London Olympics is a big boost for the team. We have crossed the first hurdle easily but now the real test starts. They will have to now prepare for the big matches," he said.

Zafar said with a little bit of hard work and determination, India can reclaim their top position in world hockey.

"It would be little too much to expect the team to be number one from the No. 10 position in the Olympics, but at least we hope to better our rankings there. If we can put a lot more hard work in the coming months, a top-four finish is possible."

"There are still holes in our defence and we have to be careful in that area," Zafar warned.

Another former player Aslam Sher Khan, who was a member of India's only World Cup-winning side in 1975 Kuala Lumpur, too feels that the team is slowly and steadily heading towards redemption.

"It was a much-needed performance. Even though the level of competition was not up to the mark, it was heartening to see India play attacking hockey again," he said.

Aslam also hailed Nobbs for his contribution to the Indian team in the last six months.

"The credit must go to the coach. He judged India's potential and the result is showing in just six months. We are scoring more goals now and the fitness levels of the players has also vastly improved," he said.

"A top-four place in the Olympics is a tall ask but not impossible. We need to put in a lot more hard work in the coming months."

"The finishing of our forward line and defence is still a big concern. Our forwards need to score more field goals. We just can't depend on penalty corners. Our defence was also hardly tested in this tournament," he said.

Aslam's captain in the victorious 1975 World Cup side, Ajit Pal Singh agreed with his former teammate and said the dominating performance in the Olympic qualifiers was a result of team effort.

"We played as a team throughout the tournament. The team is looking good and they deserved to qualify for the Olympics. Nobbs got the changes (in the team). A coach is the one who keeps the team together and Nobbs was excellent," he said.

Asked about India's chances of finishing among top four, he said: "I just wish but I doubt. But nothing is impossible in sport. Defence is still our main problem area."

Another former captain Pargat Singh termed India's performance in the Olympic qualifiers as one of the best in recent times.

"It was one of the best performances. The team is on the right track and are back on the mainstream of world hockey," he said.

"It is too early to predict (about London Olympics) but a place in the top four is not impossible.

"We still have many grey areas to work upon. Defence is a concern as we have conceded nine goals in the tournament against lower-ranked teams," added Pargat, captain of India's 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympics campaigns.