India hockey coach, Michael Nobbs, is in focus, and, like an answering machine, he is being forced to repeat the same mundane sentences again and again. But he hasn’t lost his cool even once. When someone asked for the umpteenth time what should the country expect in the Olympics, he said coolly, “I took charge with the mission of making the team qualify for London. Whatever comes now will be a bonus.”As his wards play the final practice matches in France and Spain, the Australian knows Olympics is the toughest of events with qualification itself having been a tricky assignment. "A realistic target should be a top-eight finish. Anything above that will be a bonus. But you never know; two wins and a draw can take you through to the semis," he said before boarding the flight to Paris.
Skipper Bharat Chetri too was confident of putting up a good show. “We’ve had an uninterrupted camp and the team has trained well. Our performance in the Azlan Shah Cup and the London test event will motivate us to do better,” said the skipper.
“I don’t know whether a medal is a realistic target, but one thing is clear, we are capable of beating any team,” said vice-captain Sardar Singh.
From defence to attack
When Spanish coach Jose Brasa was in-charge, his emphasis was on defence. The team somehow stood up to his expectations and did a decent job by making it to the podium in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. But with Nobbs’ entry, the focus is firmly on attack.
“I am not saying my coaching techniques are the best, or I am the best in the business. But I’m clear about one thing. I’m following a tried and tested method, which is the Australian method. I want my team to play with only one mindset — that attack is the best form of defence,” said Nobbs.
“It is better to lose after scoring goals because it gives you the confidence to take on the opponents again,” he added.
India is the only team taking two goalkeepers to the Olympics and Nobbs says he is taking a calculated risk, even if it means one player less on the bench. “I hope it works. Our rotational strength will be depleted, but the fitness level of the team is high and they can handle the load. The advantage of having two ’keepers — Bharat and Sreejesh — is that they perform better against specific teams,” said Nobbs.
Nobbs’ area of concern is missed chances, a perennial weak area. “We are getting a lot of opportunities, but they are going abegging. In Azlan Shah, we were able to penetrate Argentina’s attacking circle 46 times, still we lost the match,” said the coach. He can take heart from the fact that the mixture of youth and experience and Sandeep’s accuracy with drag flicks can turn the match on its head any day.
That could happen even against Germany, Australia or the Dutch. Time to start believing.