New Delhi: The hockey fraternity on Saturday hailed Indian team's qualification for the next year's World Cup but cautioned that the side still need improvement in all areas to be a strong contender at The Hague, Netherlands.
Olympians Zafar Iqbal, Ajit Pal Singh and Vasudevan Baskaran were all effusive in their praise for the team's inspiring performance in the ongoing Asia Cup, where they will lock horns against South Korea in the final on Sunday but also spelt out key challenges facing the relatively young Indian side.
"I feel happy for the team as their qualification will rebuild the Indian hockey history. But there are key issues engulfing the team and we need to quickly address them with not much time left for the World Cup. These include play consistent and controlled hockey, improve tactical skills, improve fitness level," Baskaran told PTI.
"I believe we are as good as the top teams in the world. We are technically and skill wise sound but we also need to work on our defence and stop playing waiting game," he added.
Virtually assured of a World Cup berth, India defeated hosts Malaysia 2-0 on Friday to enter the final of the 9th Asia Cup. The Koreans have already qualified for the World Cup while India and Malaysia have all but qualified for the quadrennial event as the first and second reserves.
Another legendary hockey player, Zafar Iqbal said playing in the World Cup is entirely different from playing in the Asian circuit.
"The boys need to work hard on their attack and defence. If you don't play in the big tournaments, it would not going to help your game. India should look to win the World Cup rather than just taking part. Playing there is an altogether different proposition but I believe with experienced players joining back the team, it will be a good mix," said Iqbal.
"The teams which participated in the London Olympics will be there in the World Cup and we all know what had happened to the Indian side there (finished 12th). There is a need to balance out the team with experience and youth...work on the mental toughness and fitness," he added.
Iqbal also praised interim coach Roelant Oltmans and said "he is one of the best coaches available in the world".
"India have played well in the tournament. Oltmans is a very good coach. He brought unity and team spirit back among the players. He did a good job with the team," he said.
Iqbal, however, rued the fact that Pakistan will not feature in the World Cup since it started in Barcelona way back in 1971.
"They won the World Cup four times and if they are not there, it's disappointing not only for their country but for the world hockey. It's a sad news for the Asian region. India and Pakistan in a tournament always make for an exciting hockey," he said.
Baskaran said, "It's bad for the world hockey that a good Asian country is not part of the World Cup."
Ajit Pal said India should immediately start preparing for the World Cup and address their shortcomings.
"It's a happy news for hockey lovers of the country. We should look for lifting the Asia Cup trophy. Oltmans should start preparing the team for the World Cup. It's not a good situation where India always have to go through qualifiers and not securing a direct berth to major competitions," he said.