Asiad gold will give us ample time to be podium contenders in Tokyo, says Harendra

Harendra could not have asked for a better start to his new stint as India excelled in almost all areas, before losing to world champion Australia via penalty shootout in the CT final.

Even though Harendra couldn’t change the colour of the medal in the just-concluded Champions Trophy in Breda, Netherlands, the coach was mighty pleased with the attitude and performances of his players.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Back with a creditable silver medal from the Champions Trophy, the Indian men’s hockey coach Harendra Singh is determined to seal India’s 2020 Olympic berth in the upcoming Asian Games as he feels it will give the eight-time winners ample time to become realistic medal contenders in Tokyo.

Harendra, who returned to coach the men’s team for a record fourth time, two months back, replacing Sjoerd Marijne, could not have asked for a better start to his new stint as India excelled in almost all areas, before losing to world champion Australia via penalty shootout in the CT final.

“As a coach, I am happy with our performance, but not with the colour of the medal, because I wanted to change the colour and we had our moments,” Harendra said in an interview.

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“Now, the Champions Trophy is history for me and our complete focus should shift to the Asian Games in Jakarta, where I will settle for nothing less than gold.”

“Defending the Asian Games title will secure our place in the Olympics. We will then have two years to prepare, which I feel should be enough to be a serious medal prospect in Tokyo,” he added.

Even though Harendra couldn’t change the colour of the medal in the just-concluded Champions Trophy in Breda, Netherlands, the coach was mighty pleased with the attitude and performances of his players.

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“The performance of the team has been satisfying. As a team, we have taken a few positive steps, which is important. We had our chances to close the final against Australia in the third and fourth quarters, but we didn’t use them and had to pay the price in the shootout, which is anybody’s game,” he said.

In the Champions Trophy, Harendra fielded a balanced side, which has the experience of someone like Sardar Singh and also the youthful exuberance of players like Diplreet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad.

The coach’s experiment was bang on target as India not only showcased some fine attacking hockey, but also defended stoutly in numbers to draw the attention of its opponents.

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“We have improved in our defence and attack as a team, which was visible in Breda. We’ve improved with our fast counter-attacks and circle penetrations,” Harendra said.

“But, we still have to work on some areas, like positioning inside the circle, choice of skill inside the circle and, of course, penalty corner conversions.”

Harendra, however, warned his players against complacency, saying that they cannot afford to look back from here on. “We will continue to play attacking hockey. That is our strength and any deviation from that will be a compromise. We are on the radar of every team now. We must continue the progression. We cannot sit back and relax,” the coach said.

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Harendra said that the Indian squad for the Asian Games will be decided by Tuesday, but a formal announcement may be made later.

After the ongoing short break, the players will assemble at the national camp on Sunday and the camp will continue till the departure of the team for the Asian Games.

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