It will be different in London

India missing the 2008 Olympics after failing in the qualifier in Santiago made news. Four years later, the nation qualifying for the London Olympics has also made the headlines.

As India prepares to join the fray in London, former players are realistic about the team's chances. Playing against teams like Holland, Germany, Spain and Australia will be a different ball-game altogether, they contend.

Maneypande Somaya, who was the Technical Director of the men's team at the 2008 Olympic qualifier in Santiago (Chile), is of the view that India under Michael Nobbs is learning to counter-attack. “The transition from defence to attack is happening swiftly and without mis-passes. Nobbs had mentioned after taking over (the Indian team) that he would pay attention to this aspect. It is happening,” he said.

“Players generally use the dribble to get past defenders whenever passing options are limited. There is a risk of losing the ball here. Indian forwards played give-and-go in the Qualifiers and since the player with the ball had his team-mates in position for the passes, doing the dribble was not necessary,” noted Somaya, the skipper of the Indian team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Ignace Tirkey's switch from midfield to defence also came in for praise from Somaya. “Nobbs made a smart move by convincing Tirkey to move back to the defence. He and Sardara Singh are good on the ball, so they create a marking problem for rival teams each time they step into the attack,” said the former India midfielder who had played against Nobbs at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Drag-flicker Sandeep Singh played a significant role in India's victory. “He will hopefully be able to score with drag flicks against better prepared sides in London. The French goalkeeper appeared to be almost in awe of him, but a repeat situation might not happen at the Olympics,” Somaya said.

“India needs Gurbaj Singh to move up to the next level. He and Sardara are two world-class players we have,” he added.

Right-half Gurbaj, rated the best in his position, did not play the qualifier. He is an attacking midfielder capable of stretching any defence with his searing runs down the right and precise centres.

“India also needs to find a good finisher. Shivendra Singh and Tushar Khandekar will find it tough against organised defences,” Somaya noted.

He was of the view that Nobbs deserves credit for bringing in the right type of trainer (David John) to work on the fitness of the Indian players. “Our all-out attacking approach seen in the Olympic qualifier and packing men behind the ball demand high fitness levels. From what I have heard, the trainer's role extends to monitoring the diet of individual players,” Somaya said.

Former India chief coach Joaquim Carvalho said that the real work for the Indian team starts now. “I'm taking nothing away from the efforts of our players, but performing against Holland, Germany, Spain and Australia is different. It is for Nobbs to decide how he is going to do it,” he said.

Carvalho, who watched India thrash France 8-1 in the final on TV, said, “Skill carried us through. France, Italy and Poland were many levels below us and this was reflected in the score-lines.”

Carvalho, who was in charge of the Indian team at the 2008 qualifier in Santiago, was all praise for Sandeep Singh. “Sandeep got us goals whenever penalty corners were created. He has to continue doing the same work at the 2012 London Games,” he said.

Nandakumar Marar