It's been 16 long years that Indian men's hockey team won a gold medal at the Asian Games, but its chief coach Terry Walsh said that the Sardar Singh-led side has a realistic chance of breaking the jinx in the upcoming continental event to be held in Incheon, South Korea. (Also Read: Asian Games Men's Hockey: India, Pakistan in Same Pool)
India won only two gold medals in hockey at the Asian Games (1966 and 1998), and their best finish after that was a silver medal in 2002 Busan edition of the mega-event.
But Walsh feels going by India's latest showing in the Commonwealth Games, his wards will start as one of the favourites in the Incheon Games to be held from September 19 to October 4.
"Yeah, you would think so," was Walsh's reply when asked whether India consider themselves as favourites in the Asian Games.
"Realistically, that would be the case. That would be fair and reasonable assessment but that doesn't mean anything as we have seen in the past. It doesn't matter whether you are ranked 14th or 4 you have to play in a tournament.
"We certainly should be regarded as one of the teams with a medal prospect in the Asian Games but we have to earn that," he said.
But achieving the target is easier said than done as India have been clubbed alongside arch-rivals and eight-time and defending champions Pakistan in Pool B. The other teams in India's pool are dark horse China, Oman and Sri Lanka.
Walsh is fully aware about the task at hand but feels that having not played top-class international hockey for quite some time, the pressure would be more on Pakistan than India.
"I think if there is any pressure that would be more on a team which has not played at this level for 12 months or so. They have a bunch of younger guys who haven't had a lot of international experience at this level. But there is always the historical and traditional pressure with India and Pakistan just like Germany and Holland and Australia and New Zealand," the Australian said.
"But we have to guard against complacency. It's (the pool) not as easy as it looks. China are a good side, they can play well and we all know Pakistan is a very very good team. Not for one moment we can think that we are automatic qualifier from this pool we will have to work really hard."
Walsh is satisfied with the progress India has made so far under his guidance and feels the team is in a position to fight against teams outside the top four bracket in the world.
"Yeah, we are improving there is no doubt about it. We are getting to a better place where we can justifiably play and expect results against teams out side top 4 in the world and thats a very good place for us to be. But we have quite a bit of work to do before we can justifiably say we can play against the top 2-3 teams in the world," he opined.
He, however, said there are plenty of grey areas the players need to work upon if they wish to compete against the top teams of the world.
"We have a lot of areas where we have to get better at. For example, we have to get better at creating corners and converting our chances, giving away careless penalty corners is still a bone of contention," Walsh said.
India captain Sardar Singh too is optimistic about his side's impressive outing in Incheon.
"The way we are putting in efforts and performing from the World Cup we are confident we can win gold (in Asian Games), but the start is very important," he said.
"In the Commonwealth Games, we worked on the mistakes which we committed in the World Cup and in the Asian Games we will be working on the mistakes which we committed in the Commonwealth Games."
Meanwhile, Sardar refused to be drawn into any controversy regarding the snub hockey players had received from the selection committee of this year's Arjuna Award but simply said any deserving athlete should get the recognition.
"Hockey India is handling the issue so let it handle this. We are only focused on our training but whoever deserves the award should get it," he said.