The ability to sustain the pace and fitness levels will hold the key for India's quest for a berth in the Beijing Olympics, according to former hockey captain M M Somaya who describes the qualifying tournament as "the most important" assignment for the team in recent years.
Somaya, who is the team's technical director, reckoned that the enhanced fitness level of the players would stand the team in good stead in the qualifiers and a victory would be a "huge boost" for hockey in India.
"Looking at the players, I do not recall a fitter Indian team. They are a young and eager bunch, and watching them, I feel good," Somaya told PTI.
"If we qualify on March 9, I think it will provide a huge boost for the game in India. Even more should we go on to win a medal in Beijing," he said.
Somaya was member of the Indian hockey team that took the top spot at the 1980 Games in Moscow and went on to play in 1984 and 1988 Olympics.
"That would be a huge boost for hockey in India. But first, we need to qualify and in this context, the tournament here I feel is the most important that India have played in recent years.
"In the previous qualifying tournaments, we only had to get among the top four or five to qualify, but this time around, we have to win the competition outright," he said.
Soon after arriving in Santiago after a 24-hour journey from Mumbai, Somaya was closeted with Chief Coach Joaquim Carvalho to chart out the team's strategy.
The two have been team-mates as midfielders and close friends who have a healthy respect for each other's hockey knowledge.
Somaya said the rolling substitution and a scientific approach to training had made the game faster while the accent on weight training and gym work has added power and strength to the players' repertoire.
"That explains the fast pace of today's hockey. The teams are able to sustain the pace because of rolling substitutions as it means you have fresh legs on the field. Add to that the training regime and it gives a perspective to modern hockey. These areas will be the key for success," he said.
Reflecting on his playing days, Somaya said "there was a cap on number of substitutions. Our fitness levels too was not as high. So, it was difficult to last all of 70 minutes."
He said in their time players would practice hard to get used to the then newly-introduced astro-turf which increased the wear and tear of their body.
"The major problem then was that we were so eager to get used to astro-turf (introduced at the 1976 Montreal Olympics), that we put in too much practice on that surface leading to hastening the wear and tear of our bodies. And by the time we realised our folly it was much too late," he said.