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Russian hurdle on road to Tokyo

Do-or-die: India would hope drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh comes good on return in tie vs Russia.

other-sports Updated: Oct 31, 2019, 10:13 IST
B Shrikant
B Shrikant
Injuries and indifferent performances have thwarted Rupinder Pal Singh’s (C) efforts to seal a permanent berth as defender and drag-flicker.
Injuries and indifferent performances have thwarted Rupinder Pal Singh’s (C) efforts to seal a permanent berth as defender and drag-flicker.(HI)

It is difficult to maintain focus when things are not going your way. People do different things to stay motivated in such situations. Seasoned drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh took to watching motivational videos on Youtube as he tried to make another comeback to the Indian hockey team.

“It was a very difficult time in my life. First I was down with injury, and after I recuperated and regained fitness, I was dropped from the team. I was disheartened but decided to maintain composure. It is difficult to make a comeback,” Rupinder said here on Wednesday.

“I would watch motivational videos on Youtube, not by a particular person, just a random selection. My family and friends too helped me not to lose hope, though at one time I had considered quitting hockey altogether. But I decided to concentrate on maintaining fitness and stay focused during those difficult times,” said the 6’4” tall full back, who followed his father and brother into hockey and is a product of the Chandigarh Hockey Academy.

Rupinder, who made his international debut in 2008, has had a stop-start career with the Indian team, injuries and indifferent performances thwarting his efforts to seal a permanent berth as the senior defender and drag-flicker. The 29-year-old from Faridkot in Punjab was dropped for last year’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar.

Though he fought back into the team for the Australia tour early this year, he was again ignored, for the FIH Series Finals in June. Rupinder is back in the squad for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers against Russia here following good performances on the Europe tour a couple of months back.

“Now that I have got this chance, I want to make the most of it, and remain in the team for as long as possible. I have won medals at the Asian level, now I want to win medal in events like Olympics and World Cup. But the immediate aim is to help the team qualify for the Tokyo Olympics,” said Rupinder. Just like it is challenging to remain motivated in difficult times, it is also tough to retain focus when playing against a lower-ranked opponent, a challenge India must overcome as they get ready to take on Russia in the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers to be played here on Friday and Saturday.

No easy matches

However, tough competition in the first set of qualifiers might have made them realise that the format is such that no team can be taken lightly. India are ranked fifth and though Russia are 22nd, they have nothing to lose. Lower-ranked teams have given some of the favourites a mighty scare; like the 17th ranked Pakistan, who held World No. 3 Netherlands 4-4 in their first encounter in Amsterdam. Though the Dutch dashed Pakistan’s hopes of causing a sensational upset by thrashing the three-time Olympic gold medallists 6-1 in the second match for an aggregate 10-5 verdict, they did face suffer an anxious night between the two matches.

Similarly, Canadian fans had had their own share of anxiety as Ireland held a two-goal advantage (5-3) going into the second leg. Hosts Canada won the second match 3-1 to tie the scores 6-6, eventually winning in sudden death shoot-out to break Irish hearts. It is because of this format that India captain Manpreet Singh and chief coach Graham Reid have stressed on concentrating on the job on hand without bothering about their opponents’ low ranking and their 10-0 walloping over Russia at the same Kalinga Stadium in June.

“We cannot take any team lightly and we need to respect every opponent. There is no room for complacency, especially because we have seen what Russia are capable of. I am sure they will come well prepared as it is the Olympic Qualifiers and they are capable of surprising any team. Hence it is important we remain focused on our performance and play our best hockey,” said Manpreet.

Reid wants his team to remain alert and capitalise on the progress India have made so far. “We have built some good momentum with this young squad and I am satisfied with how focused this unit has been,” said the Australian coach.

Rupinder promised that focus. “Our concentration is on our game, maintaining our level of play and improving on aspects that need improvement. We are not thinking about the opponent and their ranking and record.”

Injury setback

The Indian men’s hockey team suffered a big setback when defender Varun Kumar had to withdraw from the team due to an injury in his right shoulder. Varun, who is also a drag flicker , suffered the injury during training. He will be replaced by Birendra Lakra.

ht epaper

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