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September 27, 2000
Something went wrong: Jyothikumaran
It was supposed to be India's chance to return to their glory days in men's hockey, but it is Pakistan who are looking to a new era after upsetting defending champions The Netherlands to move into the Olympic semi-finals.
India were left rueing what could have been, blocked out of the top four by a dismal draw against lowly Poland.
"It's a bad day, a very bad day for India," coach K Jyothikumaran said on Wednesday.
"Nobody expected it," he said. "For the first time, I can say that all the press, the whole hockey fraternity, all believed that this was the team to lift India after a long, long time."
India have eight hockey gold medals, including six at consecutive Olympics from 1928 to 1956, but have not been among the medals since winning the boycott-depleted 1980 Moscow Games.
Since then they have finished fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth.
It has also been a while since Pakistan last won gold, at Los Angeles in 1984, and the team had to play qualifying rounds for Sydney, finishing second to Spain.
But they have good vibes about Australia, having won the World Cup in Sydney in 1994 and their first Olympics hockey medal, a silver, at the 1956 Melbourne Games.
Coach Hanif Khan sent the team into a spin earlier this year when he quit but the young Pakistan side have hit their stride in Sydney. On Tuesday they beat The Netherlands 2-0 to get through to Thursday's semi-finals at the top of their pool.
It will be their first Olympic semifinal since they took the bronze in Barcelona, and wipes out some of the disappointment at placing sixth in Atlanta in 1996.
"Now, thank God, we are in the run," said manager Islahuddin Siddiqui. "It is very good for world and Pakistan hockey."
He won't talk up Pakistan's chances beyond Saturday's semifinal against South Korea, wanting to take one match at a time.
But he agrees that the team, only three of whom played at Atlanta in 1996, represent a new era for Pakistan.
"We are trying to build a team, a new team," he said, dismissing concerns the side may be too reliant on penalty corner ace Sohail Abbas, who has banged through seven goals so far in the tournament, three of them when Pakistan beat Britain 8-1.
"I rely on everyone," Siddiqui said.
"No doubt he is a very good player, and thank God he is doing well, but I rely on the forwards and defenders both."
As Pakistan look forward, India's coach is at a loss to explain what went wrong on Tuesday against unfancied Poland.
"We had a wonderful game plan this time but something went wrong. Maybe the rain... but I never expected that our players would miss so many chances like that," said Jyothikumaran.
"At one stage they were too confident, the second part they were too desperate," he said after the 1-1 tie. A win or a draw of 2-2 or more would have kept India in the race.
"Not only me, but all the players and the whole of the team feel very bad about yesterday, the way we went out of the final," he said.
But he said they could still appreciate that Pakistan and South Korea had qualified, while Malaysia put in a good showing.
"It's a very good sign for Asian hockey," he said.
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