Going by the draw of the Olympic Qualifying tournament, commencing at the National Stadium on Saturday, India should have a smooth passage to London. Even national coach, Michael Nobbs, feels so given the home advantage India is going to get in the six-nation tournament.
India play Singapore in the opening tie and Italy in the second. Record shows that India have never lost to these two sides. But Nobbs adds a word of caution. “Given the way the game has developed in the two countries, they won’t be pushovers,” he said.
Before the ‘real action’ begins, India skipper, Bharat Chhetri opined that matches against these two teams would give his side the opportunity to settle down. “The first two matches will be like training sessions for us. We plan to utilise them to prepare for tougher matches,” Chhetri said after Thursday’s practice session.
India take on France and Canada before clashing with Poland in the last encounter. What is giving the home team added confidence is the fact that its record against all three teams is good. “This factor has added to the confidence level of players. There is no reason why we shouldn’t win,” Chhetri said.Even though the tournament is yet to start, Chhetri is already thinking about the gains a victory here would bring. "A win in the Qualifiers will change the hockey scenario in the country. Only a ticket to London can infuse life into the game here," he said.
The team plans to have a full dress rehearsal on Friday to mentally prepare for the tournament. “We plan to do the same things like on the day of the tournament,” Chhettri said.
Gurbaj to be missed
The absence of playmaker Gurbaj Singh is definitely a concern for Chettri. “He is one of the good players. I wish he had not got injured,” Nobbs said about the midfielder. The Punjab player has been the architect of several international victories. His presence, said a team member, would have further strengthened the side.
Gurbaj’s latest medical report, on January 30, suggests he is fine, but he has been told to wait till the next camp. “I have started training, and should be fit to join the team,” Gurbaj said from his hometown in Ferozepur.
Gurbaj had suffered a knee injury in the second week of January because of which he missed the Test series against South Africa, which was the main criteria for selecting the team for the Qualifiers.