Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India], May 31 (ANI): Veteran hockey players VR Raghunath feels that the current lot of Indian players are better equipped for the Olympics than the ones who took the field in Rio de Janerio in 2016.
Raghunath also said since players have been spending time together amid the coronavirus pandemic, they are more familiar with each other.
"The Canada match which we drew cost us in 2016. That result put us in a different qualification group. But I feel the current batch of players can handle the Olympics a lot better. The same batch of players have been around for seven-eight years now, they are in touch with European players," said Raghunath in conversation with Hockey Te Charcha, a podcast series launched by Hockey India in the lead up to the Olympic Games.
"They can perform much better than Rio. In the Olympics, it comes down to one or two matches and how you get your rhythm right in the arena. I have seen teams keeping it simple and playing with a free mind. I'd tell the players not to think much about the occasion.
"The players are in the same age group and have been quarantined together for a long time so they are familiar with each other and have been winning Pro League games as well. Players like Rupinder and Manpreet were around in the previous edition as well. They have covered every area well," he added.
The former Asian Games champion was full of praise for current vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh, who took over drag-flick duties from Raghunath.
"Harman had immediately arrived after the U-21 World Cup win. There were instructions from the coaches to take him under our wing; to protect him atleast for 30-40 matches so that he could get an idea of what international hockey is all about," said Raghunath.
"We guided him and he grasped things very quickly. We could see the results in just 3-4 months. He started scoring as well. Rupinder Pal Singh and I tried to treat him like a brother and not as a player. Our coaches have moulded us in such a way that the juniors are comfortable around the seniors.
"He has come a long way over the last four years, and I feel, he has another 8-10 years of international hockey in him. Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas have also entered the mix. This is good for Indian hockey as we are not sure when a player will be down with an injury," he added.
Raghunath played a huge part in India's resurgence as a force in international hockey. The year 2014 was a turning point with the side bagging silver in the Commonwealth Games and clinching a historic gold in the Asian Games.
"In 2013, we were performing very well. We had targeted the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games that year. We had aimed for two targets -- to reach the finals of CWG and to bag gold in the Asian Games. We set realistic targets and we worked out rigorously for 8-10 months," said Raghunath.
"We trained in New Delhi. We were more like commandos before going into those two tournaments. Our homework was so good. We played some fantastic hockey during that period all the way up to the 2016 Olympics," he signed off. (ANI)