Rio de Janeiro:
Keen to start their Olympic campaign on a winning note, Indian hockey men’s captain PR Sreejesh today said that his team would not be taking Ireland lightly on Saturday as they could be an unpredictable side.
Buoyed by some strong performances in the run-up to the Rio Games, Indian men’s team will look to break their 36-year-long medal jinx when they begin the competition here in Group B against Ireland, labelled as the minnows in the competition.
“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,” Sreejesh said on the eve of the match.
This will be Ireland’s first Olympic appearance since 1908 when they had earned a silver medal. Hence, going by the recent record, the Indian team, ranked fifth in the FIH world rankings, would start as favourites.
However, chief 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,” said the chief coach.
Ireland over the past have put up an inspired show beating Malaysia and Pakistan at the 2015 FIH World League semis and with Australia’s Oceania Cup win, the Irish team had booked their berth to Rio.
Four years ago India qualified but finished last and the Sreejesh-captained side, who won a historic silver in the Champions Trophy, will eye redemption for the London debacle this time around.
If history is anything to go by, India have not yet won an opening match at the Olympics since Sydney in 2000 where they had beaten Argentina 3-0. At the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2012 London Games India were beaten by Holland 3-1 and 3-2 respectively on both occasions.
To turn the tables in India’s favour, Sreejesh and his team would need to watch out for Ireland’s marquee players Mitch Darling, a forward, and their captain and goalkeeper David Harte who won the world goalkeeper of the year award for 2015.
India have a world class goalkeeper in Sreejesh, while their midfield is compact and the onus will be on the defence to rise to the occasion and not concede late goals.