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What lies ahead of the group stage for Manpreet and co should India make the quarter-finals at Tokyo?

Gazing at the crystal ball in order to attempt to analyse what could await the Indians should they make it to the knock-outs at Tokyo 2020

Indian hockey team

Indian Men's Hockey Team (Source: Hockey India)


Subhashish Majumdar

Updated: 22 July 2021 5:45 PM GMT

For a team that have failed to get past the preliminary stage of the Olympics or the World Cup competition for over 40 years, qualifying for two big quarterfinals a couple of years apart was quite enough to make headlines.

The Indians made it to the knock-out stage of the 2016 Olympics and the 2018 World Cup only to lose both times to the eventual silver-medalists of both tournaments - Belgium and the Netherlands, but ensured that the phenomenal ascent never stalled.

The Belgians are now an even mightier unit than the one that ended India's Olympic dreams at Rio while the loss to the Dutch in the World Cup quarter-finals still lingers fresh.

The two European powerhouses would be the sides to avoid in the quarterfinal stage for every team from Group A and going by form and rankings, the Indians would do well to finish second in a group consisting of Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain and Japan.

Purely from a ranking perspective, the Indians could well run into the Germans who are expected to finish third in Group A, possibly behind Belgium and the Netherlands.

What complicates matters, however, is the fact that the Germans too are on a roll, and now appear to be just as formidable as their higher-ranked European rivals in the group- thanks to a better-than-expected Pro League campaign.

The German juggernaut comes to life again?

Germany, the second-most successful side in the Men's Hockey competition after India have won 4 gold, 3 silver, and 4 bronze medals but did lose their way over the last few years with a string of disappointing finishes.

After winning two successive gold medals in 2008 and 2012, the Germans settled for a bronze in Rio 2016 and lost their way somewhat since.

After losing the services of nearly half their side to illness during the latter stages of the Hockey World League Finals in 2017, the Germans went down by a sole goal to India in the bronze medal match.

The Kalinga Stadium was not to be a happy hunting ground for the Germans a year later as well.

At the all-important World Cup, an erratic German side thrashed the Netherlands 4-1 in the group stage, only to lose to eventual champions Belgium by a 1-2 margin in the quarter-finals.

A sixth-place finish in the 2019 Hockey Pro League did little to lift the spirits of a side who managed just 4 wins in the 14 games they played but all that was to change in the second edition of the tournament.

After going down to old foes Belgium by a whopping 1-6 margin, the Germans came back strongly to sink the Dutch with outright wins in both their away matches early this year.

The Germans then travelled to Argentina in early April, recording two fluent wins against the Rio gold medalists – the 3-0 win the second leg match at Beunos Aires highlighting their sublime form.

The scintillating run was to end at the hands of Great Britain but despite the defeats against GB at London, the Germans battled their way to the third position in the points table below Belgium and Australia.

Great Britain, themselves are not the easiest team to beat in a big game as the Indians discovered at Gold Coast three years ago.

The loss to England in the bronze-medal clash of the 2018 Commonwealth Games ruffled quite a few feathers in the Indian team management and a better result that included a win and a draw against GB on tour in March, this year, would have numbed the painful memories somewhat.

Given India's recent record of having lost their way in the big knockouts such as the 2018 Asian Games semifinal of 2018 and the World Cup quarterfinal later the same year, the support staff will need to ensure that the focus and killer instinct in the ranks remains undiminished despite the gruelling schedule.

Manpreet and co are well aware that a quarterfinal finish that earned the team accolades five years ago in Rio is unlikely to pacify ardent fans who are now keyed up to get their heroes beyond the last eight – and within striking distance of the elusive podium.

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