We have worked hard in the past nine months and are really prepared for the Olympic qualifiers in Chile. I am sure that our boys will perform to their potential and not let us down. It is an important tournament for us and we just cannot afford to fail. We have prepared well and it is imperative to implement the plans well.
India have played the qualifying rounds earlier, but never missed a single Olympics till now. I do not see anything wrong in having to go through the qualifying process. After all, even Holland and Spain, had to qualify for the 1996 Olympics. The Dutch went on to win the gold medal. This year, World champions Germany will be playing the qualifying tournament in Japan.
Modern hockey is all about power and tactics. Most of the teams rely on their penalty-corner attack drills and a cautious defence. So, all the six teams vying for the one and only slot for the Beijing Olympics will be well-prepared in their own way.
We have also done our homework and will be taking one team at a time, not really focusing on one particular opponent. Be it Russia or Chile or Great Britain, we will not be taking any chances or be complacent.
Chile have prepared well for this tournament, playing a series of matches and had a camp in New Zealand. The other darkhorses like Austria and Mexico cannot be taken lightly.
The tournament format is unique, wherein the team that faces an upset in the league phase can always come back by finishing second in the final league table and thereby play the final and then go on to win the competition and qualify.
Interestingly, back in 1984, Great Britain played in the Los Angeles Olympics as a replacement for the Soviet Union and went on to win the bronze medal. This time around, Russia have come in place of Bangladesh.
The body language of our players suggest they are as ready for the competition as one can get and since only four of them have played in the Olympics earlier, the rest of the boys are only eager to get to Beijing. After all, it is the dream of every sportsperson to participate in the Olympics and it is no different with our players.
Dilip Tirkey played in three previous Olympics, while Ignace Tirkey, Prabhjot Singh and William Xalco were also part of the team that finished seventh at Athens Games four years ago. So we have the requisite experience to bolster an otherwise young team.
I became an Olympian without playing the qualifying rounds. All the players in the present team are geared up to face the challenge in Chile to get the "Olympian" tag. I am sure with the best wishes of our fellow-countrymen, we will put up a heartening performance and make everyone proud.
I assure you that this bunch of boys will live up to the expectations. We will be opening our campaign on March 1 against Russia and ensure that we start on a winning note. Three points from the opener will be the perfect start for a tourney.
I have been lucky to have an excellent support staff. My long-time friend and former team-mate M M Sommaya will be with us in Chile. Two heads are better than one. We also have Mohinder Pal Singh and Ramesh Parameswaran in our support staff and they have put in long hours.
It is indeed a great honour to be a double Olympian -- both as a player and coach of the India hockey team. I was privileged to be part of the team at the Los Angles Olympics in 1984 as a player under the late Shri Balkishen Singh. To emulate my late coach, I have to cross the last hurdle the Olympic qualifier at Santiago to book a berth for the Beijing Olympics.