In no mood to take their first opponent Ireland lightly, Indian men’s hockey team chief coach Roelant Oltmans said in a mega-event like the Olympics it would be a grave mistake on their part to underestimate any side.
India are placed in Group B alongside reigning Olympic champions Germany, Netherlands, Argentina, Canada and Ireland. The P R Sreejesh-led side will open their Olympics campaign against minnows Ireland on August 6.
“We want to begin on a winning note and carry the momentum forward in the following group stage matches. We do not want to undermine any team especially at an event like the Olympics where every team wants to win,” said the Dutchman, who is also the High Performance Director of Hockey India.
India’s newly-appointed captain and goalkeeper P R Sreejesh too agreed with his coach.
“The Irish can be unpredictable. They have been doing well in European Championships and are sturdy and fast on the ball. It won’t be an easy game to win and we will need to go full force,” said Sreejesh, who replaced long-standing skipper Sardar Singh.
While India will be aiming to end their 36-year-long medal drought in Rio, this will be Ireland’s first Olympic appearance since 1908 when they had earned a silver medal.
Going by the recent record, India, ranked fifth in the FIH world rankings, will start as favourites. The Indians had also defeated Ireland at the six-nation tournament in Valencia, Spain, in June.
But history is against the Indians as they have not yet won an opening match at the Olympics since Sydney in 2000 where they had beaten Argentina 3-0. At the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2012 London Games, India were beaten by the Netherlands 1-3 and 2-3 respectively on both occasions.