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Beijing cut looks possible
Stickwork

Gurbux Singh

A journey from the depths of despair to a new horizon of hope is how 2007 will be remembered in Indian hockey. A year which began with the lingering disappointment of missing out on an Asian Games semi-final berth for the first time, is not looking that bleak at the fag end of it.

Luck favoured us following a string of good performances through the year as we were placed in the easiest of the three Olympic qualifying groups. Our qualifying tournament will be held in Chile from March 1 to 9, and of the six teams which will be in the fray there, India need to get past England and Egypt — the strongest rivals in my opinion.

Following our Asian Games debacle in Doha, we managed third-place finishes in the Azlan Shah Cup and the Champions Challenge. Then came the Asian Cup triumph in Chennai, beating Korea in the final. This was a performance which confirmed the potential in our team. All this has made me believe that qualifying for Beijing may become a reality — something which looked improbable at the end of 2006.

The year also saw coach Joaquim Carvalho threatening to go on hunger strike with four players, to highlight the step-motherly treatment meted out to the hockey team. Carvalho and Co. withdrew their threat, but it’s a fact that our hockey players deserved accolades for what they achieved in Chennai.

In the world scenario, Australia, Holland and Germany continued to hold sway. Australia have been playing outstanding hockey and are surely the No. 1 team in my book. Although Germany were surprised by Belgium and forced to play the Olympic qualifiers like us, I will always hold them in high esteem. The way Germany came back from a heavy defeat at the hands of Australia in the league clash to beat them in the Champions Trophy final proved their character and fighting spirit.

There is not much to say about Asian hockey, though. The powerhouses — South Korea, India and Pakistan — have failed to throw up any significant challenge to the top guns. There is no doubt that Australia, along with the European teams, are ruling the roost.

It was good to see Prabhjot Singh being shortlisted for the World Player of the Year award. It was a recognition of India’s revival in world hockey. Australia’s Jamie Dwyer also performed superbly and won the coveted award. He played in last year’s Professional Hockey League (PHL) and the youngsters got opportunities to learn a trick or two from him.

The Fih award, I feel, could have also gone to Dutchman Teun de Nooijer.

Germany’s Timo Wess was another who caught my eyes. He was adjudged Player of the Champions Trophy final.

The fourth edition of the PHL started in Chandigarh on Thursday with a number of innovations. One of those is that the green card will no longer mean a mere warning, but will lead to a two-minute suspension.

From next year, there will be qualifiers for the PHL and that should be good news for Bengal and the north-east teams. The Bengal Hockey Association is planning to host the qualifiers so that players from this part of the country get a chance to show their talent in the PHL.

MY PICK

Jamie Dwyer: This year’s Fih Player of the Year, this Australian striker has been in stupendous form in recent months. Dywer also played in the Premier Hockey League for Maratha Warriors last season and our youngsters got opportunities to learn a trick or two from him.

Teun de Nooijer: A wily schemer and forward, De Nooijer has been the face of Dutch domination in world hockey. He won the coveted Fih Player of the Year award thrice in four years. He may be on the verge of retiring, but has clearly been one of the best in business this year.

Prabhjot Singh: Prabhjot played a major role in India’s title win in the Asia Cup. It was good to see him being shortlisted for the World Player of the Year award. It was a recognition of India’s revival in world hockey

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