‘Indian hockey team should benefit from rejigged Olympic format’

New Delhi, Jan 31 (IANS) Mid and low-ranked hockey teams like India will benefit from the introduction of the quarter-final stage in 2016 Rio Olympics, making the task of top teams tougher, feels Australian legend Jay Stacy.

In each Olympics since the 1984 Moscow Games, 12 teams were divided into two pools comprising six teams each from which two top teams directly entered the semi-finals, eliminating the other teams.

The format forced questions as concerns were raised at how easily the teams were making entries into the medal rounds.

With that in mind, the competition format has undergone changes in a way that the teams will be tested in an extra match before qualifying for the semi-finals. Top four teams from two pools each will qualify for the quarter-finals, thereby giving mid-ranked teams like Belgium, India and South Korea an extra opportunity.

In the Rio Olympics, scheduled for August 5-21, India have been clubbed with the Netherlands, two-time defending champions Germany, Argentina, Ireland and Canada in the Pool B. The other pool comprises World Cup holders Australia, Britain, Belgium, New Zealand, Spain and hosts Brazil.

“In this edition of Olympics there will be quarter-finals. That is interesting for some of the lower-ranked teams, including India — they can benefit from it. And it can be difficult for the higher-ranked teams,” Stacy, who is the coach of Hockey India League (HIL) franchise Dabang Mumbai, told IANS.

The 47-year-old, who held the record of being the most capped Australian men hockey player for a long time before his record was broken by Jamie Dwyer earlier this year, felt HIL must be credited for the recent good showing of India, who captured the bronze medal in the Hockey World League (HWL) Final last month.

“India have steadily improved over the past couple of years and they are getting better. And I am sure some of that is contributed through the HIL,” Stacy, who won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics and followed it up with bronze medals in the 1996 and 2000 Games, pointed out.

“More game you can play at the higher level, you can improve from those matches. It opens the opportunity for players to learn different cultures and different playing styles,” the former midfield genius, who retired internationally after playing 321 matches, added.

One of Stacy’s high moments came in the final of the 1992 Olympics. His side lost to Germany and Stacy believes that the European side will be a top contender for the title in Rio despite of their diminishing performance in recent matches.

Many feel that the golden generations of Germany, who emerged triumphant in Beijing and London, is over. Some of the key double champions, including ace defender and captain Maximilian Müller, have retired. Their long-serving head coach Markus Wiese has quit, making way for young Valentin Altenburg, the former Dabang Mumbai head coach. And recently Germany didn’t meet expectations in the European Championship and the HWL Final.

However, other double champions, Christopher Zeller, Moritz Furste, Tobias Hauke and Oliver Korn will be there and Stacy expects them to make it third in a row.

“I still think they are a strong force. Recently they have not played to their standards I guess but that is also for the changes in the coaching department..By the time Rio comes around, I am sure they will have their plans,” Stacy, who continued playing club hockey till 2005 with Orange Zwart, reckoned.

“They have a history of performing well at the bigger tournaments and not that well at the lead-up tournaments. I will be very surprised if they don’t play good hockey at Rio.”

However, Stacy, even though refused to name his country’s side as the hot favourite, feels his compatriots can regain the gold medal after 12 years. He knows the current generation of Kookaburras quite closely as he serves as the head coach of the men’s hockey programme at Melbourne-based Victorian Institute of Sports since 2010 and the Victoria Vikings in Australia Hockey League (AHL).

“They have continued on their winning ways. They have a strong 27-member group and to break in to the final 18-member squad will be difficult. They have so many good players,” Stacy, who also works as a sales manager, said.

Stacy, who rates 1999 World Player of the Year award as his individual high moment, was full of praise for the Netherlands captain Robert van der Horst, who earlier this week was named 2015’s World Player of the Year.

“Robert was the best player last year and there was no doubt about it. He leads them really well and a very strong defender,” Stacy concluded.

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