Time for India to move on
There is a feeling of emptiness at the end of the 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup. We all had looked forward to this World Cup as a platform to raise the level of our game and finally end that streak that has never given us a semi-final place in a World Cup since 1975.
Winning a World Cup needs special moments for any team. But I did believe that a last four place for India was possible. Once in the semi-final, it becomes a game of intensity, picking up your chances, and relying on your luck.
I think the Indian team had prepared well. Some results had not gone our way in the run-up, but playing the Champions Trophy final was a big achievement. The Commonwealth Games didn’t finish well and then the Asian Games was a disappointment as we lost in the semi-finals. I think that loss lingered on a bit for the Indian team. Psychologically, it did affect us, as we were confident about winning gold and qualifying for the Olympic Games.
Not qualifying directly for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics brought the team down a bit. Yet, the preparations were good. I retired after the Asian Games, but I knew that the preparations were going on very well. The World Cup is always about 16 teams wanting to go deep into the tournament, so no match is easy. Even a big-score line makes a team realistic, as they know some goals come their way because things happened and that at times luck played a part. As you advance into the tournament, matches get closer. Some results are unexpected, and teams do play above their level. Nobody comes to the World Cup to go home early.
India did well to win all their matches. Their 2-2 draw with Belgium was a great comeback and showed the resilience in the team. In fact, the quarter-final against the Netherlands wasn’t an easy game. But it was a match that India should have won. The Dutch are strong. But we were on a par with them. Plus, it was our home ground. I think that match will be a big regret for India. It was a huge match, and we let it drift.
The players need this break to come back stronger, as this year, we have to also qualify for the Olympic Games. I don’t know about the Hockey India League, but without it, Indian hockey will be poorer. That league helped us play with some great players, and we learnt a lot.
The World Cup is over. But there are many more tournaments to look forward to. We have made big strides from where we were five-seven years back.
There is a junior crop coming up, and in the next Junior World Cup, we will know which boys will make it. It’s time to erase the disappointment of the World Cup by winning more matches in the future.
(This article has been authored by Sardar Singh, a former Indian hockey captain)