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Ask Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs, Terry Walsh, Paul Van Ass or the latest in the list Oltmans. The reason for the sack has been consistent – below par international performances. For Sjoerd, the fact that India have gone through five coaches in the past seven years must have been playing on his mind. Not to shy away from the challenges, the Dutch has begun on a strong footing. One month in charge, he already has won them a trophy – Men’s Asia Cup 2017 in October, their first in 10 years.
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His coaching methodology and unconventional tactics are being discussed effusively in hockey circles and a lot is being expected after a successful start to the tenure. Now, in Odisha Hockey World League Final that starts from Friday in Bhubaneswar, a tough challenge awaits the 43-year-old.
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On the eve of India’s opening clash against defending champion Australia, his outlook is a careful mixture of self-belief and caution. “We are looking forward to the opener. We have worked one month for this match. The intensity will be high and we are ready to face the world no. 2,” he said while addressing the media on Thursday.
“Players were involved in domestic tournaments so it was important that they get rest. Not only the body but also the mind. We worked our fitness level. I am really happy with our preparations. We don’t need more time for the tournament, we are ready.”
While in his first assignment, Sjoerd came out with flying colours against Asian teams, what real change his tactics have brought in will soon be reflected in how India square off against European rivals. India are in Pool B alongside Australia, Germany and England.
“The team is realistic and so am I,” he said when asked about the tougher challenge awaiting them. “We won the Asia Cup and we know we can do better. We need to do much better here (HWL). We are on the line, we want to raise the bar everytime.”
When questioned about India’s record against top European teams”, Sjoerd said, “What happened in the past we can’t change but we can change the future. We have to learn from past and get better. That’s what we are going to do. It’s about mindset and belief. You have to believe and the team is doing that. It won’t be easy but we are ready for the challenge.”
HWL Final will also be a chance for the Indian youngsters to get a taste of a major senior FIH tournament. Few of them already have the experience at the junior level – junior world cup 2016.
So how is Sjoerd helping calm the nerves?
“The final of the world cup was the most important moment of their life. They have the experienced there. They had the Asia Cup and played the finals. In one year, they already have the (required) experience. Of course, they will be nervous and that’s normal. You have to embrace it than fight against it. It’s about how you deal with it. Enjoying the moment is the key. Embrace the tension.
If there’s any nervousness, the expressions of India captain Manpreet Singh are a stark contrast. While addressing the media sitting alongside the coach, he happily answered everything thrown at him – from the attitude of the young player to the more probing issue of conceding penalty corners.
“Anyone can commit mistake during a match,” he replied when questioned what exactly is going wrong with the Indian team. Hockey is a fast game, it’s not just us, players from other countries also commit mistakes. Making up for it as a team is more important. We are working towards it. We are also working on our defence and hope to concede less Penalty Corners and lesser shots on our goal.”
And what about converting Penalty corners? “We have good dragflickers in Rupinder (Pal), Harmanpreet (Singh), Varun (Kumar). We can relax on that front…We need to avail as many chances as possible. We haven’t been able to do so. The game is quite fast. We cannot underestimate other teams,” he observed.
One of the players to watch out for will be defender Birendra Lakra who has finally gained fitness after nursing injury for one-and-a-half years. The team has high hopes from the returning 26-year-old. “Lakra performed really well at the camp and we hope he will replicate the same at the tournament,” he said.
The Friday fixture brings a personal milestone for Manpreet as it will be his 200th match for India. “It’s been a long journey. I am really excited to play in front of the home crowd,” he said.
The round-robin stage will have no impact on who wins the tournament. So how the team has planned its peaking process so as not to lose steam by the time it reaches the stage which actually matters. “It’s not so difficult. I don’t think you ever play matches not to win. We go every match to win. We want to perform well in every game. We aren’t thinking of the outcome. Even if you lose in the early stage, you always know you have the quarter-final,” Sjoerd said.
Source : timesofindia