Tokyo 2020: Former hockey captain MM Somaya's advice ahead of knockouts- 'If plan A fails, switch to plan B' | EXCLUSIVE | Olympics - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Tokyo 2020: Former hockey captain MM Somaya's advice ahead of knockouts- 'If plan A fails, switch to plan B' | EXCLUSIVE

ByKaran Prashant Saxena, New Delhi
Jul 29, 2021 05:59 PM IST

Former India captain MM Somaya, who led the team in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and was part of the Indian squad that had won the gold in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, spoke to Hindustan Times in an exclusive chat on the team's performance so far in Tokyo.

A look at the men's hockey results so far in the Tokyo Olympics has one major blot - the 1-7 defeat at the hands of World No.1 Australia. Other than that, it has been a breeze for coach Graham Reid's side in Tokyo. The first encounter against New Zealand was close, but India was the better team in the first half going forward, and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was on top form in the latter stages of the match. India came back from the Australia defeat to pull a solid 3-0 win over Spain to showcase their mental tenacity.

Team India celebrates after scoring a goal against New Zealand in Men's Pool A match. (Getty Images)
Team India celebrates after scoring a goal against New Zealand in Men's Pool A match. (Getty Images)

The game against Argentina on Thursday had a cagey start, but Manpreet Singh & co. managed to break the South American team's defence and won it 3-1 to confirm a spot in the quarterfinals.

HT launches Crick-it, a one stop destination to catch Cricket, anytime, anywhere. Explore now!

Now, with knockout stages set to begin from Sunday (India still have Japan to play in the Group stage Friday), former India captain MM Somaya, who led the team in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and was part of the Indian squad that had won the gold in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, spoke to Hindustan Times in an exclusive chat on the team's performance so far in Tokyo 2020.

Somaya highlighted the key areas where Reid's side can improve upon as they gear up for the knockout matches, and explained how India's young brigade can go from being good to "unbeatable".

Also Read | Tokyo Olympics: No direction home - Sable's sacrifice

EXCERPTS

India men's team have reached the quarterfinals after a 3-1 win over Argentina. What do you have to say about the team's performance so far in Tokyo?

Right from the beginning I have said, this is the fittest Indian team that has touched our shores. Barring that one match against Australia, they have played very close to their potential. A little more confidence with the forward line, like they showed today against Argentina, in the first three quarters, would make it even better. And if the forward line is gradually able to play to their potential, we would almost be unbeatable. That's my view.

Most goals have come from the set-pieces, would there be a concern about fewer field goals going into the knockouts?

With big tournaments like the Olympics, they (the players in the front line) have taken a few days to settle down. But both against Spain, in the first half, and today against Argentina, I thought they equipped themselves well. There was a lot of penetrative thrust in these two matches. But I feel that we have to be a little more consistent. We are scoring from penalty corners. That is an asset. But of course, we should be able to have a double threat, both through penalty corners, and field goals.

What areas do you think the team can improve upon?

The team plays with plan A which is to play with a blistering pace right through the game. As I said, this team is extremely fit. And they use this to play a very, very quick game. The transition from attack to defence, and from defence to attack is very fast. But when plan A fails, as it did against Australia, they need to look at a plan B where they slow down a bit. Conserve energy and break the rhythm of the opposition. So, a mid-game assessment how their plan is working out and modify it accordingly is one of the areas.

Secondly, the midfield pushes up too much and exposes the deep defence, at times. I think in deep defence, we have one or two players who are slightly not at their peak at this point. So, they require a little more protection. Like they have done in these last two games. Once they play a compact game, vis-a-vis defenders, it will help us in the tough games in knockout stages.

Also Read | Tokyo Olympics Highlights Day 6: Mary Kom knocked out; PV Sindhu, Satish Kumar and Atanu Das advance to next round

Where do you think India went wrong in the 1-7 loss against Australia?

One is trying to defeat Australia at their own game of fast-paced hockey, you played toe-to-toe with them. It was not working. If you are doing that, you have to score. But they were not scoring either. The second is, that they put too many midfielders up - Rupinder and Birendra Lakra - were looking to counter-attack, but it was working against them. These were the two main areas.

There was a lot of chatter on the team selection before, especially the forward line. With Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh scoring majority of goals. would you say India are missing Akashdeep, Raman, Sunil in the front line?

No, not at all. The selection does not happen only because a player is experienced. A selection happens because a player is fit to play in a tournament where you are going to play eight gruelling matches in sweltering conditions. All the players you take have to be in top physical shape. So, that is one important factor, that was considered by the coach and the selectors.

The second I feel is the present form. You and I have seen these guys players play two years ago. So, we would not know what their present form is. So, the coach has gone strictly on fitness and present form.

Just to look at the other way, in the game against Australia, where we did not play well, did our experienced players play well? If one is saying that only the experienced players play well, I can point out quite a few experienced players who did not play well in that game, though I do not wish to do that. Experience players also can have a bad day.

So, although I am a big fan of Sunil and these players, you cannot say that if these players were selected, we would have played better. The coach has selected the team with certain plans in mind. What is the formation they want to play, how they want to play... so we need to respect that and back that game right through the tournament.

From Group B, there will most likely be Belgium, Netherlands, Great Britain who will reach the knockouts - what realistic chance do you think India have against these strong teams?

In all likelihood, Great Britain may finish third from Group B. So, we may either get the Netherlands or Great Britain next. So, I am extremely confident because India have learnt from their experience against Australia that they need to play plan A always. And they need to have plan B sometimes and even plan C. And they are much more confident now, after four league matches. And they would be a very big threat as they are peaking at the right time.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    author-default-90x90

    Karan Prashant Saxena is a reporter/writer/editor, who specialises in sports. His primary areas of interest include football, Olympics sports, and pro-wrestling. When not working, Karan spends his time reading, travelling, and pondering on the question - What If?

SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On