After the team that travelled to Los Angeles in 1984, under the captaincy of Zafar Iqbal, the current squad led by Manpreet Singh promises to break the barren run in hockey. For observers, however, the team of 1984 was said to be one of the finest that had represented India at the Olympics.

There was hope rekindled by the success at Moscow in 1980 even though the field had been a depleted one because of the boycott led by the United States. The absence of Pakistan and Germany meant a smooth run for India which beat Spain in the final.

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“Los Angeles was a huge challenge,” recalled Mervyn Fernandes, member of the 1980 team. “We had a fantastic coach in Balkrishan Singh. He was a brilliant tactician and moulded the team into a cohesive force. He was quick to understand that our defence was not strong. We could not get the ball away from the opposition and that is when he decided to increase the number of defenders. The move paid off.”

According to Fernandes, India’s style of play - four forwards - meant there was pressure to play flexible roles. “For the first time ever, we played total hockey, defending and attacking well. Five forwards were getting lost in the sense there was tremendous pressure on the defenders. It was looking vulnerable but we had Hardeep Singh as the most versatile in defence and that proved critical.”

Fernandes remembered the team was looking comfortable and also confident. “It required me and (Mohammad) Shahid to work very hard. The league phase was demanding, especially the game against Malaysia which had always troubled us. We started off with a 5-1 win against the United States where I scored two goals. The 3-1 win against Malaysia with Vineet Kumar scoring all the goals was so encouraging. The (4-3) victory over Spain was a repeat of the Moscow final but the (2-4) loss to Australia broke the momentum.”

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It was down to a win against Germany and the team backed itself to pull it off. “The pressure of having to win probably got to us. In the pre-Olympic matches we had excelled but the loss to Australia was difficult to accept. I think consistency was the issue. We had our chances to beat Germany and missed a couple of sitters. The draw against Germany was heartbreaking indeed. It still rankles.”

With India reaching the quarterfinals at Tokyo to set up a clash with Great Britain, it was natural that Fernandes was excited. “This is our best chance after 1984. The team is looking dynamic and well prepared. It has played true to its World ranking No 4. We deserve to finish with a podium achievement at Tokyo. I just hope we convert the penalty corners and remember not to concede in the last two quarters. The comebacks can become tough. We have a very good chance to make it to the semifinals.”

Fernandes noted, “a medal for hockey at Tokyo will give the game a tremendous boost and I know the team has the strength to tame Great Britain. I wish them well.”