Oltmans targets semis for India at World League Final

In an interview with Sportstar, the India coach chats about the goals and plans of the Indian team, in the national camp at the newly relaid Sports Authority of India pitch in Bengaluru.

Roelant Oltmans at the National camp held at the SAI South Centre in Bengaluru.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Roelant Oltmans is a happy man. The chief coach of the national men's hockey team is happy with the new playing surface at the Sports Authority of India here, happy with PSV Eindhoven's victory over Wolfsburg in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday night, and happy with the work his players are doing. “This is a fantastic surface; it's fast and honest,” he said at the National camp here on Wednesday. “The second pitch that will be ready (alongside this one) next month is exactly the same pitch that will be used at the Olympic Games. Starting from the next camp, we can always practice on the same surface.”

The camp marks the beginning of a crucial nine-month period leading into the Olympics. On November 16, the team will leave for Chhattisgarh, for a three-match test series with Australia, ahead of the Hockey World League Final in Raipur. “We find every time that at the beginning of a series we are not that good,” Oltmans said. “We have seen that in Spain and New Zealand. The Australia series is good preparation for the World League. For every small mistake we make, they will immediately punish us. We may concede a few goals but it's better it happens now than in August next year.”

Oltmans, who spoke of stability at the back after India returned victorious from its four-match series against New Zealand, felt his team needed to strike a balance between attack and defence. “The first thing is to improve our defensive structure; we've worked hard on that,” he said. “Also, we want to attack. If you ask the boys, they will say, 'We want to score at least three goals in each game'. In the New Zealand series, only once did we score the number of goals we always want to score (three). That is an area where we want to improve. We didn't give it so much attention before, but now we've started to do so. Our penalty-corner conversion rate also has to improve.”

Oltmans stated that he had set a target of a semifinal finish at least at the World League Final, to be held from November 27 to December 6. “We have to test ourselves against the top sides, get the information that we need with an eye on the Olympics and see what possibilities are there in the next seven-eight months,” he said. “I'm never worried, but there's always room for improvement.”

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