Hockey: Indian men continue to sweep continental titles and Asian Games are the latest

Undisputed leader of the continental hockey
By Prabhjot Singh

Those who had written Indian hockey off a couple of years ago are now forced to eat their words. India is back and back with a vengeance. In the past one year, Indian men have been making a clean sweep of  all continental tournaments. And the just concluded Asian Games in Hangzhou is the latest. In August, India won the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai.

It not only makes India a direct qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games Hockey competition, but also makes former Olympic champions an undisputed leader of the continental hockey.

India exhibited great team effort and played superbly throughout the tournament scoring 58 goals and emerging the only unbeaten team in the tournament. India’s arch-rival, Pakistan, however, could not end the tournament the way it wanted. Though Pakistan ended on a winning note defeating Malaysia in the playoff for the fifth and sixth position, it expected to finish a little higher, at least on the podium.

Now previous champions Japan, Korea, China, Pakistan and Malaysia will have to go through the rigmaroles of playing the Olympic Qualifying tournaments for a berth in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Though initially Pakistan had offered to host one of the Olympic Qualifier Tournaments in Lahore, but it was taken away by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) quoting internal strife in the country as the reason. The tournament will now be held in Oman, the new hockey center of the continent after Bhubaneswar, Rourkela, Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh. India’s return to the top was the culmination of a long-drawn effort that saw it making a clean sweep of continental tournaments it played this year.

It added its sixth title to its kitty by defeating  defending champions Japan 5-1 in the Asian Games final. Earlier in the pool matches India recorded its biggest ever win (10-2) over arch rivals Pakistan.

India started with a style by notching up 16-0 win over Uzbekistan in the opener followed by 16-1 win over Singapore. After taking a comfortable 3-0 lead against Japan in the next match, India conceded two goals in the closing stages of the game to end with a 4-2 win over defending champions Japan. After a record 10-2 win against Pakistan, India had little trouble in defeating Bangladesh 12-0 in its last pool game to finish at the top of the table.

In the semi-finals, South Korea put up a splendid fight but it was not enough to upset the rhythm of the Indians looking for glory. India won the semis 5-3 for a place in the gold medal match. Pitted against the 2018 champions Japan in the final, India reiterated its supremacy to prove that earlier 4-2 win in the pool games was no fluke. India ended the summit clash with an impressive 5-1 win.

Harmanpreet Singh. (Photo: Twitter)

India’s title triumph was also a personal gratification for the team captain Harmanpreet Singh, a drag flicker. Though in the last FIH World Cup for men  hosted  jointly by  Bhubaneswar and Rourkela, one of reasons attributed for India’s poor ninth finish, was fewer goals from Harmanpreet than expected. He proved he is still the best as he scored in every match of significance. Even in the final, two of five goals came from his lethal drag flicks.

India’s return to top position after a gap of nine years has warmed  the cockles of the hearts of Indian hockey fans the world over. Now the focus will be on the bigger challenge, the summer Olympic Games. Harmanpreet had incidentally played sheet anchor when India returned to podium at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games by remaining one of the top scorers. And in Hangzhou he proved beyond doubt that he is still the number one.

Earlier this year, the FIH Hockey5s Asia Cup in Oman, India recorded a  2-0 win in a penalty shootout after a 4-4 draw  with Pakistan  in the final. Only  a week earlier, Indian women had won the gold medal at the same venue. Never before in the history of hockey any team had won so many continental titles in a row. As of today, India is the winner of Asian Games for men, Asia Cups, both for men and women, Asian Champions Trophy for men and Asia Cups, both for junior men and women.

After the Asian Games title triumph, India has joined the hosts France, Australia men and women and the Netherlands men and women,  as direct  qualifiers for the 2024 summer Olympic Games. Later this month, Pan Am Games in Santiago will decide the teams, both men and women, that will represent Americas in the Paris Olympic Games.

(Prabhjot Singh is a senior journalist. Read his articles at

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