Not many would call them medal contenders but Indian hockey captain Sardar Singh foresees a podium finish for his team in the upcoming Rio Olympics if his side can master the art of converting half chances into goals.
Sardar admitted that it won’t be easy for the eight-time former champions but was confident of putting up a much better show at the quadrennial event, where they finished last among 12 teams in the previous edition in London.
“We will do well this time and I am confident about it. Personally, my expectation is a medal and it is quite possible. It will be tough but we can do it and we have proved that in the last 2 years by beating top teams of the world,” a confident Sardar told PTI in an interview.
“If we wish to win a medal and beat teams like Australia we will have to convert the half chances that come our way,” he said stressing on the need to be more agile in the striking circle.
Citing the example of India’s matches against current world champions Australia in the recent Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where they finished runners-up, Sardar said the need of the hour for the team is to work on its scoring percentage and defence.
“We have performed really well (in Azlan Shah Cup) but we need to work on our scoring percentage which was disappointing, especially against Australia. We created a lot of chances in the league match against Australia, our circle entries and shots at goal were more but we shouldn’t have missed those chances,” he said.
“In the final we gave away soft goals. So these are the areas we need to work on. Best teams of the world like Australia convert half chances that come their way and we need to focus on these areas now.”
The skipper said the key to success for any team in the Olympics would be to peak at the right time.
“It is very important for all the players to achieve their peak level at the Olympics. So we had rested some players in the Azlan Shah Cup and we also got to learn that 4-5 senior players will get rest during the six-nation tournament in Valencia (after next month’s Champions Trophy in London),” Sardar said.
He also stressed on the need to be more focussed on the ground during the Olympics.
“It won’t be easy (medal). Concentration and we will have to concentrate hard because we tend to relax when the ball is near our 25 yard circle.
“Sports Authority of India has provided us a psychologist who conducts 2-3 classes in a week of one hour session and it is helping us a lot,” Sardar said.
Having shouldered the responsibility of India’s midfield for a long time, Sardar is now eyeing a chance to play more attacking hockey and in the process score goals, which he is doing of late.
“Now we have good players who can play at the back. In the midfield also we have good players like Manpreet (Singh) Chinglensana (Singh), Dharamvir (Singh) so I am trying to play attacking hockey. If you have seen in the past few matches whenever I have entered the opponent’s 25 yard circle something dangerous has happened,” he said.
Sardar also wished good luck to the Indian eves, who qualified for the Olympics after a long hiatus of 36 years.
“We feel proud that the girls have also qualified for the Olympics. They deserve it because they have put in a lot of hard work to achieve that. If they do well in Rio it would be a positive sign for women’s hockey in India,” he said.