Goalkeeper Sreejesh predicts a lot of surprises in Tokyo Olympics hockey competition
New Delhi, July 20, 2021
Ace goalkeeper P R Sreejesh has predicted a lot of surprises at the Tokyo Olympics hockey competitions but asserted that the Indian hockey team is mentally prepared for it.
Sreejesh, who led India at the 2016 Rio Games, was of the view that the team needs a good start.
"We need to shake off the nerves quickly and produce a good performance in the opening match. Getting off to a strong start is quite crucial in a tournament like the Olympics. It will give the right momentum for other matches in the group stage," he said.
The Indian team reached Tokyo on Sunday evening and, according to Sreejesh, there is tremendous excitement among the players in the squad.
"This is the moment we had all been waiting for. We can't wait to get on with the matches and give our best and build our momentum match by match.
"I think no one can predict any team this time simply because we haven't seen each other play over the past 15 months. There could be a lot of surprises too and we are mentally prepared for it."
India is pooled in Group A, and will open their campaign against New Zealand on 24th July.
Recalling his 2016 Rio Olympics experience as captain, he said, "It was a good team, and we knew we were very capable of making it to the top four. The fact that the quarter-finals were introduced from 2016 Rio Olympics onwards was a big advantage.
"We were grouped in Pool B along with Germany, Netherlands, Argentina, Ireland and Canada. We knew we had to finish in the top 3 in our pool to get a relatively easier opponent in the quarters," he said.
India started their campaign with a hard fought 3-2 win against Ireland, 1-2 loss against Germany, 2-1 win against Argentina, 1-2 loss against the Netherlands, but it was the 2-2 draw against Canada that derailed India's plans.
"I don't think anyone of us who took part in that match can ever forget it. We conceded a penalty corner in the 52nd minute which was converted by Martin Tupper who had scored the previous goal too. I think that match put us out on contest in Rio though we qualified for the quarter-finals," he said.
The 2-2 draw against a lower-ranked Canada meant India would play the formidable Belgium in quarter-finals.
"I think we would have liked to play Spain in the quarter-finals. But in the Olympics, no team can be taken lightly, and we have learnt from our past mistakes. We were the only team that had won against Argentina who eventually became the Olympic Champions in 2016. That means we were a good team with great potential to make it to the podium but did not deliver when it mattered," he rued.
Talking to Hockey India about his formative years, he said, "Like every other athlete, I too grew up with the dream of representing India at the Olympic Games. My earliest Olympic memory was of PT Usha and because I come from Kerala, every household knew her name and how close she had come to winning a medal in the Olympics. In hockey of course, I looked up to Anna (Dhanraj Pillay) and followed his career closely."
Though Sreejesh had made his international debut in 2006, he had to wait another six years to represent India at the Olympics.
"Unfortunately, we didn't qualify in 2008 for Beijing and hockey was facing a real slump in those days. But things improved once Hockey India took charge and introduced a very systematic approach to our training and competition. Between 2008 and 2012, the first big aim was to qualify for the London Olympics.
"Though we had a dismal outing there, the players who stayed on in the core group knew we had to set the bar higher and focus on becoming a dominant team in Asia. We aimed at the 2014 Asian Games and a direct qualification for the Rio Olympics," he said.
The experienced goalkeeper, who will be making his third appearance at the Olympic Games, believes that strong performances at the world stage, particularly the World League Final in Raipur in 2015 where India won bronze and a historic outing at the FIH Champions Trophy in 2016 where they won the silver medal put the team in good stead for the Rio Olympic Games.