Bhubaneswar, Dec 5: A topsy-turvy build up in the wake of coach Terry Walsh's sudden exit notwithstanding, the Indian men's hockey team will eye a perfect end to what has been a productive year with the FIH Champions Trophy where they face Olympic champions Germany in their opening clash, here tomorrow (Match starts at 7.30 PM, Live on Ten Sports).
Barring the World Cup disappointment, where they finished a lowly ninth, 2014 has been a relatively good year for India in terms of results in international tournaments. Under Walsh's guidance, India won the silver medal in Glasgow Commonwealth Games before clinching a gold after a hiatus of 16 years in the Incheon Asian Games, which also earned them a direct berth to 2016 Rio Olympics. (India beat Australia in practice game)
Just before the Champions Trophy, the Indians also registered a rare away Test series victory over world champions Australia, which definitely would have instilled plenty of confidence in Sardar Singh and Co. But at the Champions Trophy, it won't be easy for the Indians to realise their podium dreams as the hosts will be up against the world's best teams in the eight-nation competition to be played at the newly-built Kalinga Stadium.
India are clubbed in a tough Pool B alongside formidable Germany, Olympic and World Cup silver-medallist the Netherlands and World Cup bronze-medallists Argentina, while Pool A consists of world champions Australia, Belgium, Pakistan and England. (Tickets selling fast)
Only 1 podium finish for India so far
Going by record too in the Champions Trophy, India hardly have anything to showcase as they managed to stand on the podium only once - a bronze medal in 1982 - and finished fourth four times, the latest being the last edition of the event two years back in Melbourne.
This time around, the Indians have a great opportunity to better their Champions Trophy record as besides some encouraging results of late, they will have home support to egg them on. But the Walsh resignation saga will have some bearing on India's performance in the tournament and it remains to be seen how Sardar and Co. cope up with the reality under High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans, who has been given charge of the team.
Walsh, who was appointed India's chief coach in September last year, quit from his position last month after his contractual talks with Hockey India and the Sports Authority of India (SAI) broke down.