New Delhi: The Indian hockey team’s high performance director Roelant Oltmans feels that the latest changes in the rules will enable his best eleven in play for a longer period than before.
The changes came into force Monday and a match will now be of 60 minutes duration with four 15-minute quarters from the hitherto 70 minutes in two 35-minute halves.
Then there are additional time-outs for penalty corners and to celebrate goal-scoring. That means the new 60-minute format is actually the playing time, eliminating the dead time associated with penalty-corner preparations, and also allows the teams time to celebrate goals. After the first and third quarters there will be two-minute breaks while the existing 10-minute half-time will remain unchanged.
“The new format gives us the opportunity to have our best players on the pitch longer than we normally do. At the same time it will not make a lot of difference. Most likely every match will take 70 minutes because of all the 40-second breaks after goals and penalty corners,” Oltmans told IANS in an interview.
The Incheon Asian Games, from Sep 19 to Oct 4, will be the first tournament where India will experience the new format.
“Reduction by 10 minutes looks a lot but in the end, it is not much. If a team has seven penalty corners and you score four times, it will take up 70 minutes and the effective playing time will be the same,” said Oltmans.
The Hockey India League (HIL) is also played in the same format, with four quarters; will that help the players?
“It can but that is the case for a lot of other teams. I am not sure of Asian teams, but in the Euro Hockey League the format is in place for years. The only difference there is that there are no stoppage times,” added the Dutchman.
Oltmans seems quite pleased with India’s recent performance at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games where the team returned with a silver after losing to World Champions Australia 0-4 in the final.
“If you win silver and only lose against Australia, who even smashed Holland in the World Cup final, it shows that overall it is a very good performance. At this moment, Australia are better than any team in the world,” said the 60-year-old.
“The final game we could have played better, but currently Australia are a bit too good for us. Hopefully in a couple of years we can match them on level terms.”
Oltmans is optimistic about India’s chances at the Incheon Asian Games. The eight-time Olympic champions have a rather disappointing record at the continental Games where they have managed to win only twice (1966 & 1998) despite reaching the final 11 times.
“The aim is to win gold, but you cannot say who will win before the tournament starts. The only thing we can do is prepare a team as good as possible to make that chance realistic and that is what we are doing. If we are able to perform to the required level then we have a very good chance,” said Oltmans, under whose guidance the Netherlands won the 1996 Atlanta Olympics gold.
“India are one of the top teams. If you see the last Asia Cup or Asian Games, most times it was South Korea, Pakistan, India and Malaysia who made the semi-finals and most likely it will be the same this time.”
India will open their Asian Games campaign against Sri Lanka Sep 21 before taking on Oman (Sep 23), Pakistan (Sep 25) and China (Sep 27). The top two teams from the group will progress to the semi-finals.
The Incheon Games will also provide India the opportunity of securing the 2016 Olympic berth provided they win the gold medal.
“A win will give us an Olympic berth but there is no pressure regarding that. The pressure is only about winning the Asian Games. India have won only twice so it is a good moment to make it a third time,” said Oltmans, who also guided the Dutch team to the 1998 World Cup title.
“You have to see it as a challenge. The good performance in the Commonwealth Games will give the boys confidence to perform well in Incheon.”