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Tokyo Olympics | In pursuit of history and a piece of precious metal

Manpreet’s men aim to end four decades of heartbreak; Rani’s women keen to take next big step after qualifying twice in a row

History will be repeated when men’s hockey team captain Manpreet Singh carries the Tricolour, along with boxing legend M.C. Mary Kom, at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Manpreet will be India’s first hockey player to do so after Pargat Singh in 1996.

The inspiring midfielder and his well-knit team will be keen to see history revisit India on the turf as well. In four decades, India has not made it to the semifinals.

Carrying a billion dreams: The Indian hockey teams have the wherewithal and talent to win an Olympic medal after more than four decades. 

 

The most successful hockey nation in the Games’ history has not earned a podium finish after its gold in 1980.

The men and women have given themselves an extra ounce of motivation by making a nationalistic announcement — any medal, if it comes, will be dedicated to the COVID-19 warriors of the country.

Manpreet and his squad have prepared well for the arduous task of achieving a long-desired medal. Steeling the body and the mind to overcome doughty opponents and tricky situations has been one of the key aspects of their preparations. The well-balanced team has pedigree and promise.

The defence is experienced, the midfield is energetic and the forward line is sharp. Drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh and Co. will enhance the goal-scoring scope.

Medals in top level events — including the Champions Trophy, World League, Asia Cup, Asian Games and Asian Champions Trophy — apart from recent wins over reigning Olympic champion Argentina in the FIH Pro League have instilled self-belief in the side.

The experience of playing against Germany and Great Britain will also help.

Clubbed in Pool A with Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Japan, the Graham Reid-coached team has the potential to break the jinx.

The women’s hockey team, which made it to the Rio Games after 36 years, is eager to take the next big step by ensuring a respectable finish in Tokyo.

The team has shaped well under the guidance of coach Sjoerd Marijne.

Led by the iconic Rani Rampal over the last four years, it has claimed medals in elite events, including the Asia Cup, Asian Games and Asian Champions Trophy, apart from securing a top-eight finish in the 2018 World Cup.

Solid leadership group

Rani forms a solid leadership group with vice-captains Deep Grace Ekka and Savita. Like a beacon light, they will play a key role in steering the side, consisting of youngsters as well as seasoned campaigners, on the Olympics’ high-pressure platform.

The side has developed qualities such as fighting till the end, playing without fear and understanding each other’s role well.

The players will need to stay calm and rely on their fitness to execute the plans well.

Some proven customers in the back line, apt performers in the middle and an interesting combination of seasoned hands and greenhorns up the field sum up the team’s strengths. Gurjit Kaur will be the leading hand in penalty corner conversion.

Members with loads of experience but relatively less exposure may spring surprises on opponents. Exposure tours to Germany and Argentina early this year should prove beneficial.

India, placed with World, European and Pro League champion Netherlands, Olympic champion Great Britain, Germany, Ireland and South Africa in Pool A, will have to give its best in order to achieve a dream finish.

The hot and humid weather of Tokyo should make both the Indian teams feel at home. Hockey fans will eagerly wait to see how seamlessly the Indians switch to Games mode in pursuit of a piece of the historic metal.

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