Dutch coach pleased with India's hockey performance

New Delhi, Sep 3 (IANS) India's high-performance hockey manager Roelant Oltmans says his role as India's coach is over with the just-concluded Asia Cup and soon someone from overseas will take charge of the team soon.

The high-profile Dutchman told IANS on his return from Ipoh, Malaysia, that he is "mighty pleased" with the showing of the young Indian team, which though it lost narrowly to South Korea in the final have virtually made sure of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup at The Hague.

Oltmans, who was propelled into the coach's seat with the sudden departure of Australian Michael Nobbs, said the team that lost the final 3-4 to South Korea are at the threshold of their next big leap.

"The overall performance has been good. Now we have to analyse and start preparing for the next step. They are getting into an important phase of their hockey life. They have a series of international tournaments coming up in 2014 and they have to gear up," Oltmans told IANS in a free-wheeling interview.

Oltmans doesn't see Asia Cup as a failure or success, he is only interested in seeing how well the greenhorns have progressed playing in a pressure-packed event.

"Progress leads to better performance and that will encourage them to aim higher. Of course, we have lost the final of the Asia Cup, but certainly we have made some progress," said Oltmans.

The Dutchman is also happy with the fitness levels of the players.

"I think the way we played against South Korea in the final, despite trailing 0-2 in the first half, is praiseworthy. We should be happy with the fitness levels of the team, more so because we were competing with one of the fittest teams in the world," he said.

What is the big difference between a coach and a high performance manager?

"They are two completely different jobs. A high performance manager needs to prepare the team for future whereas a coach prepares it from tournament to tournament. Both have different responsibilities and both jobs are tough. All I can say is that the Asia Cup was a one-off tournament for me as coach and a new man will be taking over before the Asian Champions Trophy in November," he added.

Oltmans is highly impressed with Nikin Thimmaih, Mandeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh. More so with Nikin and Ramandeep, who made their international debut at the Asia Cup.

"I am impressed with the maturity shown by the youngsters. A team will perform at its best only if the players have no egos and only individual heroes. They should be sure about their roles," he said.

The high-performance manager sees bustling young forward Mandeep as someone "special".

"For me, Mandeep is special and of real quality. He is only 18, and has a bright future ahead. Ramandep came in as a replacement for S.V. Sunil and has proved his worth. He looked a bit diffident at the beginning, but as the tournament progressed he evolved and was a live-wire. Nikin was spotted at the national championships and just as well we picked him for the Asia Cup," he said.

Oltmans has an encouraging word for seniors whom these youngsters replaced for one reason or the other.

Impressive performance by the youngsters doesn't mean that it's the end of the road for seniors, he said.

"There is no difference between juniors and seniors. Gurwinder Chandi, Sunil and Danish Mujtaba were also part of the camp. They can always come back, but on performance," said Oltmans.

With next year's World Cup berth almost assured, Oltmans doesn't want to think too much about Olympic qualification. He is not merely concerned about qualifying for the 2016 Rio Games, he is thinking about the performance as he is reminded of India finishing last in London last year and the failure of the eight times champions to qualify for the Games in 2008 in Beijing -- for the first time in 80 years.

"Before thinking of Olympic qualifiers, we should concentrate on the Asian games next year at Incheon, South Korea. Champions there will get a direct entry in Olympics and the Asia Cup silver will make us serious contenders for the gold," he said.

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