India eyes a podium finish

LONDON:Aiming to gain in confidence before the Olympic Games, the Indian hockey team will be eyeing a podium finish in the Champions Trophy, beginning with a clash against Olympic gold medallists Germany here on Friday.

DIFFERENT BALL-GAME: Indian players try their hand at table tennis at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Wednesday. Photo: Tony Marshal

Launching its campaign at the Lee Valley Hockey Centre, India is seeking to add to its only Champions Trophy medal — a bronze — it won at Amsterdam in 1982.

On seven occasions thereafter, India has been edged away from the podium as it lost crucial bronze medal encounters.

The last two Champions Trophy events in 2012 (Melbourne) and 2014 (Bhubaneswar) feature among the seven fourth place finishes that left the Indians dejected.

“A podium finish is a realistic target we’re chasing here at this Champions Trophy,” said coach Roelant Oltmans as the Indian team went through its training regimen ahead of the German encounter.

Returning to the Olympic Park in London also provides India a chance to erase the unhappy memories of the last place finish in the 2012 Olympics. Before that Indian hockey used to romance the 1948 Olympic gold medal it had won in London.

Starting with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, where India got the silver behind world champion Australia, Oltmans is eager to test his junior players in stiff contests.

To do so, he has had to create space by shuffling the senior players in the squad.

Custodian P.R. Sreejesh, who will captain the squad at the Champions Trophy, and penalty corner shooter V.R. Raghunath are back in the squad after missing the Azlan Shah Cup.

For goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya and his junior colleague Pradeep Mor this is the biggest stage of their short playing career.

India’s league fixtures: June 10: vs Germany, June 11: vs Great Britain, June 13: vs Belgium, June 14: vs South Korea, June 16: vs Australia