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The former Olympics and World Champions have shown they can be masters of the game on a pleasant day and devilish in the next chapter. The Indians have never won the coveted Champions Trophy ever since it was introduced in 1978 by Pakistan’s Air Marshal Nur Khan and the Pakistan Hockey Federation.
In the 38 years history of the tournament, the Indians won a bronze medal in 1982 edition by defeating traditional rivals Pakistan and subsequently finished fourth in 1983 (Karachi), 1996 (Madras), 2002 (Cologne), 2003 (Amsterdam), 2004 (Lahore) and 2012 (Melbourne).
And at the 35th edition of the Champions Trophy in 2014 in front of home fans in Bhubaneswar, India finished third after the Group B preliminary round matches following 0-1 defeat against Olympic gold medallist and defending champions Germany in their opening game, lost 2-4 against Argentina before producing a much rejuvenated and scintillating performance to edge Netherlands 3-2 and in the process sneaked into the quarter-finals.
As India’s confidence grew stronger, its fortunes also took a turn for the better when they outplayed Belgium 4-2 in the last eight to setup a semi-finals derby against traditional rivals Pakistan. The Pakistanis won 4-3. India eventually bowed 1-2 against Australia in the playoff for bronze medal.
However, the 2014 Asian Games champions and 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup silver medallist, have ensured a mix of youth and senior players in the team as they rally back to break the jinx in the Champions Trophy which will be held at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from 10-17 June 2016.
India men’s hockey team head coach Roelant Oltmans has named a squad of 18 players and introduced goalkeeper PR Sreejesh to lead the side in London after the veteran missed out on the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia last month. The much respected forward and long-time captain Sardar Singh is likely to return as team captain for the six-nation tournament in Spain and the Rio Olympics.
At the Champions Trophy, the Indians aim to put in a class performance, and finish as high as they can, preferably with a medal at the tournament which will give Oltmans’ India the much needed confidence going into the Rio Olympics. They leave for London in the first week of June.
But it won’t be a bed of roses for India at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as standing in the way are World Champions Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Belgium and 2014 Men’s Hockey Champions Challenge I winners South Korea.
The Australians won the Champions Trophy 13 times since the inception of the marquee event 38 years ago, Germany 10 and Netherlands eight times. Great Britain’s best moments was a silver medal in the 1985 final against Australia but settled for bronze twice (1978, Lahore, 1984 Karachi).
Though the Indians travel to London riding high on confidence, the 36th edition of the Champions Trophy may just turn out to be a David versus Goliath battle for Oltmans boys in their mission of ‘breaking the ice’.
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