A silver medal in the recent Asia Cup has virtually assured India a place in next year's World Cup and the team's high performance director Roelant Oltmans feels the erstwhile champions of the game will be a force to reckon with in the 2016 Olympics.
India lost to defending champions South Korea 3-4 in a hard-fought contest in the final of the Asia Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia recently but despite the defeat, the Sardar Singh-led side has virtually booked its ticket to next year's World Cup.
India will now just have to wait till November for the official confirmation from the International Hockey Federation (FIH) which will come only after the conclusion of the Oceania Cup.
"We will have to wait for New Zealand or Australia to win the Oceania Cup. Normally, one of these two teams win the Oceania Cup. It is very unlikely that a team like Samoa or Papua New Guinea will win beat Australia or New Zealand. So considering that we are happy that we have more or less qualified for the World Cup," Oltmans said on Friday.
"But still we have lot of work to do, we have to match the top teams of the world. Look at Belgium, they are now a rapidly improved side and are beating teams like Germany, Australia and the Netherlands. I feel we will take another couple of years to beat top sides of the world. I feel we will be one of the strong contenders for the 2016 Olympics if not the 2014 World Cup," he said.
"We are getting closer and closer but we will need some more time. We need to play more tough games like the Asia Cup final against South Korea," he added.
Oltmans, who was entrusted with the responsibility of guiding India in the just-concluded Asia Cup after Michael Nobbs' sudden ouster, feels that the Asia Cup result shows that Indian hockey is heading in the right direction.
"It was a young and inexperienced team but under pressure it showed great fighting spirit in the Asia Cup. Everyone could see the improvement. Only a combined team effort can produce such positive results," the legendary Dutch coach said.
Oltmans said the impressive performance of youngsters in the Asia Cup augurs well for the eight-time Olympic champions.
"I am pleased to see competition for places coming up in Indian hockey. So there will be a fight for places in the team which is an encouraging sign for Indian hockey," he said.
"A player has to understand that if he wants to be a part of the Indian hockey team, then he has to be committed and hardworking. There is no alternative to it," said Oltmans before leaving for a two-week break to the Netherlands.
Plagued by injuries to key players, India fielded a relatively young and inexperienced side for the Asia Cup.
With four key strikers -- Danish Mujtaba, SV Sunil, Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Akashdeep Singh -- ruled out due to injuries, India's forward line in the Asia Cup was a new-look unit.
Oltmans said the hunt for a full-time foreign coach for the men's hockey team is going on but he refused to divulge the names of the candidates who are in the fray.
"I was in charge of the team for seven weeks. My duty is over and now I have returned as Director, High Performance of Indian hockey. We will appoint a new coach soon. The process is going on," he said.