Expectations are high from the Indian men’s hockey team, which takes on Great Britain in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.
India had lost to eventual silver medallist Belgium in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Games. But this time, the Manpreet Singh-led side, which has improved a lot in the last five years in terms of performance and ranking, is considered a serious contender for a podium finish.
If India gets past Great Britain, it will reach its first Olympic semifinal in 41 years. The last time India reached the semis was in the 1980 Moscow Games, where it won its eighth gold and the last Olympic medal.
The present Indian squad is one of the fittest in the Games and is ranked among the best as far as skills are concerned.
India reached the quarterfinals by recording wins over New Zealand (3-2), Spain (3-0), Argentina (3-1) and Japan (5-3) and finishing second in Pool A with 12 points. Its only loss, a 7-1 drubbing, came in the group stage against Australia.
The biggest positive about India’s performance in the group stage was the way it fought back after suffering a big loss to Australia. The self-belief in the side enabled it to rely on its strengths and secure three consecutive wins to ensure a place in the quarterfinals.
India’s hardworking defenders will have to be on their toes — especially against Britain’s Liam Ansell, who has scored four field goals for his team. Sam Ward will be another threat.
The Manpreet-led midfield must continue its good work to support their colleagues on back and forward lines.
The Indian forwards, including Gurjant Singh and Simranjeet Singh, have performed better as the event has progressed.
Great Britain had two wins against lower-ranked South Africa (3-1) and Canada (3-1). It drew with Belgium (2-2) and Netherlands (2-2) and lost to Germany (5-1) to get eight points and was placed third in Pool B.
Even though India has a better record in its group matches, the knockout stage will be a different ball game.