Olympic hockey: India looking for consolation win (Preview)
London, Aug 10 (IANS) In what would be a repeat of the 2006 World Cup scenario, India will take on South Africa in a classification match for positions 11 and 12 at the London Olympic men's hockey competition here Saturday.
Six years ago in Monchengladbach, Germany, India scraped past South Africa 1-0 to finish 11th, and on the morrow, the Asian outfit will be hoping to score their first win at the Olympics here after having lost all their five league matches.
The South Africans had done well to hold eventual semifinalists Britain to a 2-2 draw after suffering a 0-6 defeat to Australia, but lost their remaining four games, albeit narrowly, to finish last in their group.
In their most recent meetings, India had beaten South Africa 7-4 in the league and 4-2 in the semifinals of the Champions Challenge tournament in Johannesburg last December, but it will be a different ball game at the Olympics.
For India, it boils down to their ability to regroup after the battering they received in the league phase. A three-day break thereafter would have helped them to get their focus and thoughts together to avoid the ignominy of finishing last among 12 teams, like they did in the 1986 World Cup.
It has been quite a fall for India, winners of eight Olympic gold medals, in the past four years. The failure to qualify for the 2008 Games after the defeat to Britain in the final in the qualifier at Santiago, Chile, was a massive blow as it denied India any opportunity to play the top teams.
Absence from the elite list hurt Indian hockey like never before and this was obvious in the manner in which the team played here. The Indians never looked like they belonged to the big league and appeared unsettled at best of times, letting in soft goals and unable to score themselves.
Under the circumstances, coach Michael Nobbs' accusations of senior players not executing plans were ill-timed and did not help matters in a team that was desperately short on confidence and morale.
In contrast, the South Africans played as well as they could and at times, even exceeding expectations. Their draw with Britain, besides rugged performances against other higher ranked sides won the South African side plaudits from the pundits.
Thus, going into Saturday's game, the South Africans would be in a better frame of mind and would be only too keen to avenge the two defeats in Johannesburg while the Indians would want to end their otherwise disastrous Olympic campaign on a high though it would be only a minor consolation.
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