Santiago:It has been a roller-coaster ride for me in the past 11 months as the national hockey coach and I am afraid that it ended rather painfully. India failed to qualify for the Olympic games for the first time in 80 years since we made our debut back in 1928.
We lost 2-0 to Great Britain in the final of the qualifying tournament and frankly, I cannot find words to describe the hurt and anguish that all of us are feeling. I was extremely confident that we would get past Britain considering the talent and individual skill that our team had.
But in the end, we just failed to raise our game to meet the biggest challenge that Indian hockey has faced in recent times. The final moments of the match were very painful especially when I saw defeat looming large and the realisation that we had collectively failed. It was then that I made up my mind to step down as the coach along with my support staff of Mohinder Pal Singh and Ramesh Parameswaran.
When I took over as the coach last April, I had stated that I would quit if I do not deliver results. And in Santiago, I kept my word and resigned. And again, to repeat what I had said then, I am not a miracle man and that you cannot develop a top class team overnight. In some ways, I was fighting time too for we had less than a year to the qualifying tournament and during the period, I had to start from a scratch as the team I took over was short on motivation, confidence and self-belief.
The players had gone through a rough period in 2006 and I had to first help them back on their feet before getting down to actual coaching. I did my best, but evidently, that was not enough. Weighing all these factors, I thought it is best to step down in the interests of Indian hockey. I am sure back home, there is a huge reaction, mostly adverse. I do understand, appreciate and share the sentiments of hockey fans.
However, I still hold the belief that not qualifying for the Olympics is not the end of the road for Indian hockey. There is still plenty of talent in India, but now, we need to start from scratch, rebuild and then fight our way back to the top. It is not an impossible task, but given time, we can yet become a major hockey force.
In the final, we committed far too many mistakes, right from the push-back when Britain intercepted an avoidable overhead ball in the midfield, counter-attacked and subsequently scored a goal in the fourth minute. Then, we allowed a harmless long ball to breach our defence, conceded a penalty corner that Britain converted for a 2-0 lead by the 10th minute.
We still had plenty to play for despite being down by two goals. It required a big effort from our players, but sadly, nothing went right for us. The two yellow cards, that I would say were unwarranted considering the nature of fouls, further affected our rhythm. Still, we had our chances by way of penalty corners, and here too we fared rather poorly. The media here asked me whether the players were short on motivation. On the contrary, they were all geared up for the final push to Beijing.
However, at this level, you simply cannot commit mistakes and hope to get away. Britain punished us for our errors and when you look at the match in this context, I would say that India lost rather than Britain won.
So what next for Indian Hockey? I would say that although not qualifying for the Olympics is a huge setback for India, we should not give up hope or over-react. I am sure that back home, Olympians, players and hockey loving public would begin to ask questions. I do not blame them. Yet, we must act rather than just react and that is the best way forward.
In this tournament, we had just one big opponent in Great Britain. I still hold the view that to a man, India were a far superior team, but Britain were more consistent and played a steady game while we continued to make mistakes.
The best way forward would be to retain the core players. Youngsters like Ramachandra Raghunath, William Xalco, Vikram Kanth, Diwakar Ram and Ajitesh Roy, still have plenty of hockey left in them. I will say the same about the more experienced players like Prabhjot Singh, Tushar Khandekar and Shivendra Singh. No purpose is served by pressing the panic button, for that will be a step back. I was queried whether I would reconsider my decision to quit if the Indian Hockey Federation asks me to. If at all they do, then I would like to think things over. I have some issues over the way the game is administered in India, but this is not the moment for me dwell at length on these matters.
In conclusion, I would say that we need to keep our collective cool. I know it is difficult, but then, when you act in anger, the only outcome is destruction. Indian hockey has a vibrant and glorious past.
Yes, we failed our gold medal-winning heroes by not qualifying for the Beijing Olympics, but then we will do a bigger disservice to Indian hockey by allowing our emotions and passion to dictate our actions rather than calm and composure. At the end of the day, the choice is ours to make.
(This is the last column from India's chief hockey coach Joaquim Carvalho who wrote for PTI during the World Hockey Olympic qualifiers in Santiago, Chile. Carvalho has decided to resign after India failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in 80 years.)