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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Road to London - Hero FIH at Delhi

The 2012 Summer Olympic would soon be held in London in July 2012 .  In the last version at Beijing in 2008, Abhinav Bindra won Gold in 10M airrifle shooting and the Indian contingent won 2 more bronze medals, making it easily the best performance in Olympics.  Still it was sad for it was the first time since 1928 that Indian Men’s hockey team failed to qualify.   India has an impressive collection of honors, including 8 Gold Medals and an uninterrupted series of six victories between 1928 and 1956.   All that is past glory and our last Olympic Medal came in 1980 Moscow Olympics.   The present tournament being held in Delhi is touted as passport to Olympics and we hope that India does well here and then in Olympics.  The International Hockey Federation (Fédération Internationale de Hockey sur Gazon, or FIH) is the global governing body of field hockey. Its headquarters are located in LausanneSwitzerland and the present tournament in Delhi is FIH qualifier.

Much has changed in the way our National game is played – it is no longer an exhibition of technique and mastery of intricate hand-eye-stick coordination, it is more speed, power and stamina.  Until the 1970s, hockey was always played on grass. However, top-level matches, including those at London 2012, now take place on water-based synthetic-turf pitches, which allow the ball to roll more smoothly and quickly.

At London 2012, both the men’s and women’s Hockey competitions will begin with a preliminary phase: the 12 teams in each event will be divided into two pools of six, and each team will play every other team in their pool. The two best teams in each pool will qualify for the semi-finals, the winners of which will go head-to-head for the gold.  Men’s Hockey made its Olympic debut at the London 1908 Games, but the first women’s Olympic Hockey competition wasn’t held until the Moscow 1980 Games. At London 2012, all matches will be played at the brand new Riverbank Arena in the Olympic Park.  For infringements, players will now be shown Green cards (2 minute suspension); Yellow card (longer temporary suspension) and Red card (removal from the game).

The 12 Teams in the fray at Olympics are :   each of the continental champions receives a berth alongside the host, Great Britain. (England, Scotland and Wales compete separately in most competitions, but send a combined team to the Olympics and selected friendly tournaments, which is managed by England Hockey) Europe receives two extra quota places, and Oceania one extra, based on the FIH world ranking. Another three spots will be decided in qualifying tournaments. If England wins the 2011 European championships, Europe will receive an extra place. 

Great Britain has qualified being the Host Nation; Pakistan bu virtue of winning the 2010 Asian games; Germany, Nederlands, Belgium from 2011 Euro Hockey Nations Championship;   South Africa qualified by winning the 2011 African Olympic qualifier but would play the Qualification tournament.  Argentina was invited by ranking basis; Australia and Newzealand from 2011 Oceania Cup.  The winner of the present Hero FIH and one each from the tournament to be held in Ireland and in Japan

Thus the present Men’s Hero FIH Olymlic Qualifier assumes special significance as ‘Road to London Olympic Qualifier’.  The tournament is being held in the spectacular Major Dhyan Chand National Hockey Stadium, with 6 teams fighting for a single ticket.  While host India and Canada are favorites to reach the winner-take-all Final next Sunday, France and Poland could create some surprises. India is the top ranked team in this competition (10th in the latest FIH Rankings). At the 2010 World Cup, played in the same venue, with exuberant crowd support for the local team, India finished at a disappointing 8th place.

Michael Nobbs, who was a good centre-half for Australia in early eighties is the present coach and in penaltyp-corner specialist Sandeep Singh, we have a player of immense caliber. 

Of the other participants, Canada is 14th ranked, France is 18th in FIH rankings;  Poland has world ranking of 19th; Singapore and Italy are in the fray after surprise withdrawal from Egypt and USA. After 6 days of competition, with the ruthless format of the Olympic Qualifier, only one team will earn a berth for London while the other five squads will go home with shattered Olympic dreams. 

Ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh continued his goal-scoring spree as he scored a hat-trick to guide favourites India to a convincing 6-2 win over France in an enthralling match  making it India’s third consecutive win.  Yesterday, it was Sandeep again as India beat Canada 3 – 2.  Sandeep (40th minute, 61st) converted two penalty corners to not only see India through in the pulsating encounter, but also increase his goal-tally to nine in the tournament. Shivendra Singh (26th) scored the other goal for India, while Mark Pearson (50th) and Scot Tupper (53rd) found the target for Canada.

With four wins out of four matches, India are more or less are through to the summit clash of the tournament unless some surprising results in the last round of games hurt their cause.  A draw in the final match against Poland on Friday would be enough for the hosts to secure their place in the title clash.
Hoping that happy days will be back again for the Indian Hockey Team.  All the best to Asunta Lakra and Bharat Chetri – the captains..

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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