India aims to break opening jinx

India has not won an opening match at the Olympics since the Sydney Games in 2000, where it beat Argentina 3-0. As it takes on Ireland on Saturday, India will hope to start on a winning note.

Skipper P. R. Sreejesh (left) and coach Roelant Oltmans will hope that their team starts off with a win.   -  K. Murali Kumar

India will look to end its 36-year-long Olympic medal drought, as it takes on Ireland on Saturday in the Rio Games. Ireland returns to the Olympics after 1908, when it won the silver medal.

India, ranked fifth, beat Ireland in June at the six-nations tournament in Valencia and will be the favourite to win the match.

However, coach Roelant Oltmans does not want his wards to get complacent.

“We want to begin on a winning note and carry the momentum forward in the following group stage matches. We do not want to undermine any team especially at an event like the Olympics where every team wants to win,” he said.

Ireland put up an inspired show beating Malaysia and Pakistan at the 2015 FIH World League semis.

“The Irish can be unpredictable. They have been doing well in the European Championships and are sturdy and fast on the ball. It won’t be an easy game to win and we will need to go full force,” said captain P. R. Sreejesh.

India, however, has not won an opening match at the Olympics since the Sydney Games in 2000, where it beat Argentina 3-0. At the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2012 London Games India was beaten by Holland 3-1 and 3-2 respectively.

Sreejesh and his team need to watch out for Ireland’s marquee players: Mitch Darling, a forward who plays with Rotterdam and David Harte, who won the world goalkeeper of the year award in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Indian women making their first Olympic appearance since Moscow 1980, will face Japan, ranked 10th in the world, on August 7. The team led by formidable defender Sushila Chanu will look to put up a good show as well.

Though ranked 13 in the world rankings, coach Neil Hawgood feels the girls are are eager to make a mark at the Olympics.

“The girls are excited and raring to get on with their first ever Olympic campaign. They have had a decent run in the tournament in the USA where we won a couple of games and will hope to convert the confidence from there into good result in the opening tie,” said Hawgood.

Skipper Chanu said her team is excited and up for the challenge. “This is our first Olympics and we want to put up an inspired performance. We have done well against Japan in the past and we are able to execute the plans the coach has drawn for us, I am sure we will be able to succeed against them,” said Chanu.