The Indian hockey team will play warm-up matches against the Developmental Team (like the India A team in cricket) and France and will meet only one top team — the Netherlands — in their run-up to the World Cup opener against archrivals Pakistan in New Delhi on February 28.
Coach Jose Brasa and his boys are faced with this situation because of the cancellation of the four-nation tournament in New Delhi, as the international hockey federation (FIH) felt the National Stadium wouldn’t be ready in time for the tournament.
Though the standoff between the players and Hockey India is now history, Brasa’s boys will have very little time to regroup before they play six warm-up matches. The team will play two matches each against the Developmental Team and France and one each against the Netherlands and Argentina.
Not the right kind of preparation for the World Cup. Brasa agrees that the situation is not ideal but said his boys will have to make the most of it. Within hours of the deadlock being broken, Brasa and coaches Harendra Singh, Ramandeep Singh and Romeo James had a discussion to chalk out the programme leading up to the World Cup.
Excerpts from an interview:
On the team’s schedule till the World Cup
We haven’t lost a lot of time, as this was a recovery week for the players. Maybe, they have recovered more than desired and we will have to ease them into training and build the momentum. We will do some light training followed by high-intensity training in the next two weeks. We will have a break around Jan. 24 and then two weeks of hard training again.
Sometime towards the end of this month, we will shift to Delhi.
On the warm-up matches before the World Cup
We have some matches against France, which is not a top team but not a bad team either. France has done well in recent times and played against Pakistan in the World Cup qualifiers. We will play Argentina on February 23 and Holland on the 25th.
On the positive impact of the crisis
The boys have come closer as a unit and I hope they will be able to translate that into good performances in the World Cup. They are ready to fight after having achieved what they had set out for. I am happy because they are happy.
On India’s chances in the World Cup
We have a very good chance of finishing in the top-eight. I give them 40 per cent chance of reaching the semifinals. If we manage that, we can go all the way to the title.
On meeting Pakistan in the first match
It’s good to play a tough match first up. We are looking forward to playing Pakistan. But Australia will be the toughest team in our group and then Spain.