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Indian OQ History (M) 2008: Disaster,and out (2/16/2012)
--K.. Arumugam
What happened at Chile in the last Olympic Qualifier

Much was at stake for Indian men’s hockey in 2008. Ever since the country failed to make use of the Asian Games route to Beijing Olympics – India was not among the first three teams at the Doha Asian Games’ hockey event to directly seal its Olympic seat – all eyes were set on the next and the last chance to qualify. It was one of the three Qualifiers with six teams, only the winner of the event making it to the Olympics. The FIH announced the teams for the three Olympic Qualifiers in September 2007. Based on the world ranking, India was allotted the Chile number to be held at Santiago in the first week of March 2008.

The composition of the Chile Qualifier was such that it could easily be made out that one between India and Great Britain will book the ticket, as other sides in the six-team event were not strong enough compared to the two former powerhouses of field hockey. Great Britain, inventor of modern hockey, have to their credit three Olympic gold medals while India have eight. However, the stark reality was, both the nations could not reach respectable placing in their Continental Championships — in Great Britain’s case the European Nations Cup – and had to figure in the Qualifier. England, representing the Great Britain, finished 6th at the Barcelona European Nations Cup while the first three teams got the direct entry.

Once the Qualifiers were announced, the focus shifted to the teams’ preparation for the big event. India pinned hopes on hosting the Champions Trophy, which was originally allotted to Pakistan. The FIH had to shift as some participants expressed concerns on security. Malaysia’s bid was accepted. Malaysia also had the same compelling reasons as that of India to stage the event as they were preparing for their Olympic Qualifier. Malaysia was in the Gifu (Japan) Qualifier along with Germany.

Champions Trophy is normally a six-team event, but this time it had to be minimum seven due to the new hosts. However, the FIH increased the field to eight, bringing in England. The FIH’s logic was that England was fifth placed team in the last World Cup. An unfair

advantage for England, who would not have been there in Kuala Lumpur had the event not shifted from Lahore. England was not there in the original Lahore line up.

England did exceeding well in the Champions Trophy, even defeating some strong teams. They obviously gained a lot being in the company of the world’s best. Besides, they played a number of international matches against other teams in the run up to Chile but nothing like the one they had at Kuala Lumpur. On the other hand, India engaged Belgium in a five-match series, all in one city (Chennai), before embarking upon a training session in Perth, Australia. The touring Indians engaged strong domestic teams and China in friendly matches.

At Chile, the Indian team did not look a champion side from the beginning. Every team easily tested their defence while the forwards did not show the type of precision expected of them. India also lost to Great Britain in the league, conceding the winner minutes before the hooter. It seems the late goals rattled the team’s confidence as the latter events would prove. They however defeated the hosts to enter the final.

On March 9 — in the wee hours of March 10 in India — both the contenders fought for the priced Beijing ticket. England scored two goals early on and successfully defended them too. The Indians came alive briefly in the second half, but wasted the chances they created. Overall, it’s right to state that the Indians did not measure up to the task.

India did not make use of four penalty corners they earned in the second half, as they seemed to hurry things. Coach Joaquim Carvalho castigated umpires and the Technical Delegates for ‘psyching’ his team. Whatever the reasons, the fact was that India missed the Olympics for the first time in 80 years.

They had been a regular since made their entry at Amsterdam in 1928. A sad day for Indian hockey! It’s unfortunate that hockey celebrated its 100th year at the Olympics in Beijing without India.

Excerpt from Hockey Year Book 2008 published by Field Hockey Publications, Author: K. Arumugam

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