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Olympic comeback

Published: February 27, 2012 | 11:10 am
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The original masters of hockey will return to Olympic competition in 2012

India celebrated the national field hockey team’s return to the Olympics on Monday, but their coach warned that the fight back to the top had just begun.

At one time, India were the masters of the sport with eight Olympic gold medals, but they failed to qualify for the Beijing Games four years ago, missing the event for the first time since 1928.

The team booked a place in the London Olympics with an 8-1 demolition of France in Sunday’s final of the qualifying tournament at home in New Delhi, led by Sandeep Singh’s five penalty corner goals.

The cricket-obsessed nation, deflated by Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s under-performing team in Australia, finally have something to cheer about.

The victory was splashed on the front pages of leading newspapers, with experts predicting a bright future in what is officially India’s national sport.

World-beaters

Michael Nobbs, the squad’s Australian coach, however, said a lot of hard work still remained to be done if the team was to compete against the best in the world.

He said it might be unrealistic to expect the team to win a medal in London, with his goal set at making India world-beaters by the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Nobbs, who took over as coach last June for a five-year period, said: “Miracles don’t happen overnight.

“Qualifying for the Olympics was very important for the team but is only a good start. My main goal is that after five years the team should be confident of a podium finish.”

India dominated the qualifying tournament against lesser-ranked teams, pumping in 44 goals in six matches, 16 of them though Sandeep’s penalty corners.

“This win could be the start of a new chapter,” said former captain Pargat Singh. “Now that a spot has been sealed in the Olympics, the focus should shift on winning a medal in London.”

Former Olympian Jagbir Singh said the self-belief in the team gave him hope that India could perform well in London.

He said: “It was heartening to see India at its attacking best in the qualifiers. There is still time before July (when the Olympics start) to rectify any shortcoming, but I am confident this team will go far.”

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