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'With some luck we could finish among the top teams'

Last updated on: June 28, 2012 16:04 IST

'With some luck we could finish among the top teams'

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India hockey coach Michael Nobbs says scoring field goals will be the key to the team's fortunes at the upcoming Olympics.

India have won the men's hockey gold at the Olympics eight times. But the last occasion it returned triumphant from it was in 1980, at Moscow, when NATO countries boycotted the Games.

Since then, it's always been heartbreak, the team failing to finish among the top four. Worse, it missed out on an Olympic berth in 2008 after failing to make it through the qualifying tournament in Chile.

In a bid to regain lost glory, the country has gone to the extent of hiring foreign coaches, beginning with Gerhard Rach of Germany in 2004. Then followed Australia's Ric Charlesworth and Spain's Jose Brassa. With none of them able to lift the team from the abyss, Hockey India, which took control of administration of the game form the Indian Hockey Federation, hired former Australia Olympian Michael Nobbs last August on a five-year term. The low-profile Aussie sort of delivered immediately, helping the team to qualify for the upcoming Games.

Now, having guided India back to the Olympics after a gap of eight years, Nobbs has the Herculean task of honing the squad for the tougher test ahead at London.

Laxmi Negi caught up with the soft-spoken taskmaster before the team set out for France and Spain on its last leg of preparations for his assessment of the team and its chances at the Games.


Image: Michael Nobbs
Photographs: Laxmi Negi

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'When we lose to top teams it helps us learn quickly'

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Is your team ready for the Olympics?

Our preparations are pretty good. We are in the final stages of the physical part of the training, like high altitude, weight training and skill sessions.

We will taper all that before going to France and Spain, where there will be more of hockey.

What are the areas of concern?

The main areas of concern are in front of goal at one end and in front of goal at the other end (chuckles)!

Defensively, we have problems since day one and we are working on it. We have made inroads during the Azlan Shah [tournament] and we are getting better, but I am still not happy.

We have to get better. When playing smaller teams we get lot of opportunities to score; we can afford to make few mistakes.

When we play top teams, they are better at defending, scoring goals, everything. So we need to create more opportunities and make most of the opportunities.

Once we get better at that we can consistently get better against the top teams.

Consistency is problem...

Yes, consistency has been a problem, but that depends on time.

Playing top teams of the world regularly helps, but, unfortunately, we did not get so much opportunity to do so.

When we lose to top teams it helps us learn quickly.


Image: Michael Nobbs
Photographs: Laxmi Negi
Tags: France , Spain

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'Those who have passion are with us and those who wanted money played WSH'

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Are all the flaws mended?

I am a hard taskmaster and I demand a lot. I ask for more than they can give me.

Coming from Australia, we have high level of performance. From my point of view we are way off, but we have made a lot of progress to date, except that we really need to get better at scoring field goals.

There were some players who were not selected, or called for trails, because of their involvement in the rebel World Series Hockey League. Do you feel their services will be missed?

We are tied with players whom we thought could represent the country; players who had passion to play hockey for India. Those who have passion are with us and those who wanted money played WSH.

The ones that are here with us are going to represent India as a nation.


Image: Nobbs watches the players in training
Photographs: Laxmi Negi
Tags: WSH , India , Australia

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'Blue turf will be a disadvantage or advantage depends on which way the luck goes'

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Have players got accustomed to the blue turf that will be used at the London Games? What are the drawbacks of the turf?

The blue turf is an interesting one. When we first heard of it... basically it required London colours, which are blue and pink. So, it is basically a green turf painted blue.

But it is extremely new and has characteristics of a new turf -- slow, bouncy and hard to run on. It is difficult to play on, simply because it is new.

We played a four-nation tournament on it, but the problem is it is locked down for security reasons and it is still going to be a new turf.

It may affect the results in some of the games because it is not a great turf yet. It just needs time.

How much time will it require to make it playable?

Any brand new turf needs a good 12 months' playing experience. The actual usage of the London turf is 2-3 months.

So you mean to say that the blue turf will be a disadvantage to all the teams?

It will be a disadvantage or advantage depends on which way the luck goes.


Photographs: Laxmi Negi
Tags: London

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'This is the toughest competition and we are in the toughest pool'

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India is grouped with Germany, the Netherlands, Korea, New Zealand and Belgium. Is it the tougher pool?

This is the toughest competition on the planet ever and we are in the toughest pool!

All the teams, except Belgium, are above us. But it can work for us sometimes, simply because there can be upsets.

In the other pool, Australia are the winners. They are the best team by miles.

Much will depend on our first game, against the Netherlands. If we get through that successfully, it will be a big positive for the boys. From there on the pressure on the boys will ease. With some luck we could well finish among the top teams.

We have already seen New Zealand at the Azlan Shah. They will certainly be a force to reckon with...

In the Azlan Shah, New Zealand played with their Olympic team, whereas we did not field our Olympic team.

But they are a tough team and they beat Australia in some recent games. The Kiwis are probably the biggest team on the planet.

The Indian team heavily depends on Sardar Singh....

Every team is like that. For example, Australia has Jamie Dwyer, England has Ashley Jackson, Holland has Teun de Nooijer and Pakistan has Zaheer Abbas.

These players are ultimate professionals and they are up there for a reason. They play their top level and they are recognized at the world level for that.

When people say India, Sardar's name is there; like England has Jackson. Take Jackson out and what is England?

Likewise, Sardar is a prized resource, but he is a humble professional. He is a great jewel to coach and has changed his game under me. And it is showing on the field.


Photographs: Laxmi Negi

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'I hope Sardar puts up his brilliance in Olympics, because if he does, we will win'

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What do you like the most about Sardar?

He can do things with a hockey ball that no one else can do. He has magic. Sometimes when he does something exceptional I ask him in the dressing room: 'How did you do that?'

He is such brilliance that everyone loves watching him. I hope he puts up this brilliance in the Olympics, because if he does, we will win!

You are not predicting anything going into the Olympics...

All say it's hard to get medals. We could finish first or we could finish last. Nobody can predict how we can finish; this competition is so tough.

I like the players to have confidence; it's great to know what they can do. And it needs to be backed by the ability and performance.

Hockey is mental game and if you walk into a game thinking you are going to lose, that is exactly what's going to happen.

Every time you walk on the turf you put your ability and character out there.

So the boys having an idea of where we are going to finish is terrific.


Photographs: Laxmi Negi
Tags: Sardar

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