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Harmanpreet Singh, Gurjit Kaur win best player awards as India sweep international hockey honours

  • Oct 06, 2021
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Indian hockey touched a new peak on Wednesday, making a virtual clean sweep of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) awards, with drag-flick sensation Harmanpreet Singh being crowned the 'FIH Player of the Year' in the men's category, PR Sreejesh winning the 'Goalkeeper of the Year' award and the men's hockey chief coach Graham Reid getting the 'FIH Coach of the Year' award. Former Indian women's hockey chief coach Sjoerd Marijne got the 'FIH Coach of the Year' award in the women's category. The voting-based annual awards had six Indian players and two coaches in men's and women's categories. This is the first time that all nominees from India have won the prestigious awards in their respective categories. Drag-flick sensation Harmanpreet Singh was the top scorer in India's bronze medal-winning performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games. He was nominated for the award along with Belgium's Arthur Van Doren and Alexander Hendrickx as well as Australia's Jake Whetton, Tim Brand and Aran Zalewski. Drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur won the 'FIH Player of The Year' award in the women's category. She was nominated alongside Argentina's Agustina Gorzelany and Agustina Albertarrio. The other nominees for the award were Netherlands' Eva De Goede, Frederique Matla and Maria Verschoor. Sreejesh, who won the 'Goalkeeper of the Year' award, had come up with a career-best performance at the Olympic Games. The other nominees in this category were Belgium's Vincent Vanasch and Australia's Andrew Charter. Goalkeeper Savita won the award for the best goalkeeper in the female category. Savita, who was also the joint-vice captain of the women's team at the Olympics, was outstanding in guarding India's post and played an instrumental role in the team finishing fourth in Tokyo. The other nominees in this category were Great Britain's Maddie Hinch and Argentina's Belen Succi. 2020-21 FIH #HockeyStarsAwards results announced! Olympic Success Wave continues for India with @TheHockeyIndia winning big.A record number of almost 300’000 fans casted their votes for this year's Awards.CONGRATULATIONS to all winners and nominees!— International Hockey Federation (@FIH_Hockey) October 6, 2021In the FIH 'Rising Star of the Year' category for men, Vivek Sagar Prasad won the award for the second consecutive time. He was nominated along with South Africa's Mustaphaa Cassiem and Australia's Sean Findlay. In the 'FIH Rising Star of the Year' category for women, Sharmila Devi won the award with maximum votes ahead of Great Britain's Fiona Crackles and Argentina's Valentina Raposo. Graham Reid got the 'FIH Coach of the Year' award. He was nominated along with Australia's Colin Batch and Belgium's Shane McLeod. Congratulating the award winners, Hockey India president Gyanendro Ningombam said, "This is a great moment for Indian hockey as all our Indian nominees for the FIH Stars Awards have been announced winners. After the historic performances in Tokyo by both the Indian men`s and women`s hockey teams, the support from Indian fans from across the globe has been overwhelming. We thank everyone who supported the nominees by voting for them. "This is a big moment for us and these awards will definitely inspire future generations to take up the sport professionally. On behalf of Hockey India, I congratulate all the award winners and wish them success in their future endeavours."Also Read- Sagar Rana murder case: Delhi court denies bail to Olympic wrestler Sushil Kumar

Asian Champions Trophy Hockey

Asian Champions Trophy Hockey: India lose 3-5 to Japan in semis

  • Dec 22, 2021
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Asian Champions Trophy Hockey: India lose 3-5 to Japan in semis, to play Pakistan in bronze medal clashDhaka: India, a defending champion and Olympic bronze medalist lost 3-5 to Japan in the second semi-final of the AFC Champions Cup men's hockey tournament on Tuesday.Japan was very different on Tuesday as they played Manpreet Singh's winger from the start.The Indians were nowhere near their final performance in the match against Japan, as their defense collapsed under relentless pressure from the lower-ranked opponent from the start of the match.This was in stark contrast to India's performance in their last game against Japan, where the Olympic medalists never recovered from their first goals.Japan led 2-0 in the first two minutes and it looks like the Indians took a hit and played hockey after that.Japan scored through Shota Yamada (first-minute penalty), Riki Fujishima (2), Yoshiki Kirishita (29), Kosei Kwabe (35), and Ryoma Oka (41).Hardik Singh (17, 58) and deputy captain Harmanpreet Singh (43) scored for India.India and Japan met 18 times, the host country won 16 matches, while Japan won once and ended in a draw.Japan will now face South Korea at the summit, while India will again face Pakistan in the bronze medal match on Wednesday.The tournament ended in a hostile climax for India after they topped the Round Robin stages with an undefeated record.In the second semifinal of the day, South Korea beat Pakistan 6-5 in a thrilling clash.The Indians were supposed to enter the game with confidence after their last quarterfinal game, but the scene was quite different on Tuesday.It was the Japanese who attacked from the beginning and took full control of the first quarter.Japan's dominance can be measured by the fact that it scored six penalties in the first six minutes, two of which were goals. He was awarded a penalty for the first time in the first minute, which resulted in a penalty and Yamada did not miss a penalty.The Asian Games gold medalists continued to pressure the Indian defense, scoring five more corner kicks in a minute and a half, one of which resulted in another goal from Raiki Fujishima.Japan completely dominated the first 15 minutes as they launched attack after attack at the Indian goal to surprise the Olympic bronze medalists.It was a completely disappointing performance from India as they failed to score a single goal in the first 15 minutes.Prepared by captain Manpreet Singh and Dilpreet Singh, losing by two goals, the Indians came out more objectively in the second quarter and reduced the gap in the 17th minute with a field goal from Hardik.India kept pushing and got their first penalty in the 19th minute, but Japanese goalkeeper Neelam Sanjeev Ziss saved.But Japan did not hold back and relied on their swift counterattacks, which trapped the Indian defense several times during the match.From one of these counterattacks, Japan got another penalty that was missed by India's teacher Krishna Bahadur Pathak and this time Kirishita got up and opened his breath to advance 3-1.After swapping ends, Japan again surprised India when Kwabe fired an impromptu shot at the open goal and the Indian defense stopped believing they were taking a penalty. But the referee seized the opportunity.Oka scored from close range in the 41st minute off some great left flank action by Kenta Tanaka.Two minutes later, Harmanpreet converted India's second penalty.After trailing 2-5, India was chasing goals and soon received two more penalties, but both missed.With just over a minute to go, India secured their fifth penalty, and this time Hardik scored his second goal of the day from another.The captain of India, Manpreet Singh, was very upset with the result.He said: "It is not the result we wanted. We were a bit lazy at the beginning, we lost two opening goals. The biggest lesson for us is that we cannot underestimate any team, we have to prepare for tomorrow's game. We need to stay."Also read -  Why are you, captain?' Ricky Ponting slams Joe Root comments

Manpreet Singh

Hockey: How Manpreet Singh bounced back from World Cup 2023

  • Dec 28, 2023
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For some of India’s top stars, 2023 was the year when they had to pause, reflect and reboot. In some cases, to recover from injuries; in a few others, to rediscover lost form. All in the hope that when the big day comes, they’ll be ready and recharged for the challengeIn Odisha at the World Cup in January, after India lost the shootout against New Zealand to fall short of the quarterfinals, Manpreet Singh was on his knees, staring down at the turf in disbelief. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, for the team that won bronze at Tokyo Olympics. It was, to put it mildly, a disaster to go out that early.In Hangzhou at the Asian Games in October, when the final was deadlocked 0-0 against Japan with five minutes left to go in the first half, India were getting a bit desperate for the opening goal. As a rebound fell to him at the edge of the circle, Manpreet Singh unleashed a powerful reverse flick that flew into the roof of the net. He was on his knees again. Only this time, his teammates were mobbing him as he celebrated a rare and significant goal. India would go on to win the match 5-1.“Kya bolein yaar, I score only rarely,” Manpreet tells with a big smile. “When the ball came to me, I was only thinking of hitting the target. The coach tells me when I get into the circle, ‘you don’t shoot enough. So when you get a chance, go for it, your reverse hit is brilliant.’ That’s all I had in mind. And it flew well off my stick.”Indeed, 2023 was one of two halves for the Indian men’s hockey team. At a home World Cup, a chance to end the 48-year-old wait for a medal went begging. But as the year drew to a close, they clinched the title at the Asian Champions Trophy and the gold medal at Hangzhou Asian Games, which also sealed their place at the Paris Olympics.And Manpreet personified that arc better than any.The 2012 Olympic Games campaign was a nadir in Indian hockey as they lost all six matches to finish last, but for a 20-year-old Manpreet it was personally harrowing too. There were reports of cliques in the squad and of Manpreet being targeted. So when Manpreet says the disappointment of the 2023 World Cup was alongside that of London 2012 for him, it says a whole lot.“We were all quite disappointed. In the match against New Zealand, we didn’t play well at all. In a crucial match, we were not able to do our best. We will forever remember that we didn’t step up that day,” the 31-year-old says.But if 2012 was a campaign of chaos, 2023 hurt because there was a general sentiment that this team was really good and capable of a podium finish. “Handling the pressure of crucial matches, dealing with the presence of home crowd… that match against NZ, we should have done better, because there was confidence in us from the nation. We were confident too, but it will always remain hurtful that we couldn’t deliver,” Manpreet says.Siddharth Pandey, hockey commentator and FIH Level 2 certified coach is someone who has kept a close eye on this Indian team in recent years as a broadcaster. “What happened with Manpreet at the World Cup was in line with what happened with the rest of the team, where multiple things went wrong,” Pandey tells this daily. “Crucially, Hardik Singh’s injury had a huge impact on the team and Manpreet lost a crucial supporting act in the midfield. Then there was the pressure of playing in front of family and thousands of fans. We are usually good away from home these days.”For someone who has achieved quite a lot in Indian hockey, as a player and leader, the World Cup disaster could potentially have been seen as a stopping point. But Manpreet went back to the drawing board. After a few Pro League matches, the team got a break and Manpreet was driven to bounce back. As Rohit Sharma said after the men’s cricket team’s home World Cup heartbreak, it wasn’t easy to move on but athletes have to find a way.“Spending time with the family definitely helped,” Manpreet, a doting father to a girl now, says. “Like Rohit said about how even going out and meeting people was difficult, such a disappointment is huge. We athletes put in all our efforts for years and years, for that one big day in a tournament. When you don’t succeed, you feel despondent. It takes a while to heal. But then you have to start thinking… what next? We can only change what happens in the future.”It started with fitness. Though he was on a break, Manpreet told his family that he’d not be indulging in his diet. One of the fittest athletes there is, Manpreet went about focussing on staying in the best shape possible. “I definitely had to reboot. And when we returned to the camp, the senior players got together and said ‘Whatever has happened, we can’t change. But we can learn. The mistakes we made at the World Cup shouldn’t be repeated’.”Adding a new dimensionWhile he is no longer the team captain, Manpreet – unsurprisingly – doesn’t add much weightage to it, insisting that the likes of himself and PR Sreejesh are there to share the burden with Harmanpreet Singh. Pandey goes to the extent of saying that being a leader without being the captain has liberated him.“He’s a father now, he’s in a good space personally. The Manpreet of 6-7 years ago was still very disciplined on the pitch every time he played, but was quite outgoing,” Pandey says, adding he saw a version of Manpreet at ACT who was enjoying his game, and took up attacking responsibilities that weren’t quite his forte earlier.New head coach Craig Fulton came in and initially had Manpreet playing in the defence. But it wasn’t new to him, he started his national journey as a defender on the left side. “His fundamentals were sensational, that’s why we had the nickname ‘Korean’ for him,” Pandey recalls. “Then he transitioned into being a wonderful central defensive midfielder across coaches. And now he has added a dimension that not a lot of people thought he had, which is shining as a central attacking midfielder.”Graham Reid’s era saw Manpreet evolve into one of the best guarding midfielders in the game, who was terrific at ball retrieval and starting transitions by receiving the ball into space. Fulton, after the initial shift, brought him back to midfield and gave him the freedom to go forward too. It was evident in Chennai, where Manpreet was player of the match in two of India’s matches, driving masterfully through the midfield.“He can now be the extra man creating overloads in the circle as he was when he scored the opening goal in the Asian Games final. You can see the number of aerials he receives at the baseline, making runs from deep. Under Reid, he was a ball retriever and he was the guard responsible for counter control, and was brilliant at it. Now Fulton has entrusted something new with him, and he is delivering. He is now a 3-dimensional hockey player, and to do that at 31 is quite impressive, and to add to that he is supremely fit,” Pandey says.At the Asian Games, one of the standout features of India’s play was assists for players at the second post and the number of 1-2 passes they made to open up scoring opportunities. Fulton’s philosophy is built on control and a defend-to-win mantra but within that, he is enabling the attackers to dovetail with each other, something the Manpreet-Hardik-Vivek axis is crucial for.“I found joy in going forward, I have a lot of freedom. My understanding has gotten better with other players, when Hardik goes forward I know I have to focus on counter control. And vice versa. Craig also believes that whenever we get the chance we have to use our Indian skills. Our ability to beat players is one of the best in the world, so whenever we can, we must use that ‘Indian masala’,” he adds with a smile.As Indian hockey looks ahead to 2024, Manpreet might not be the captain, but he is leading the way by evolving and setting high benchmarks that youngsters must aspire to. As Pandey says, “For him to have started his journey at a damaging event like London 2012 to now be months away from a fourth Olympics appearance, that’s an incredible career graph. Whatever happens in Paris, Manpreet goes down as an all-time great.”What 2023 taught, what 2024 meansFor someone who has seen many highs and lows in the constantly dramatic world of Indian hockey, Manpreet – and the rest of the Indian team – got a rude reality check at the Odisha World Cup. The defeat against New Zealand was a tough pill to swallow and outgoing coach Graham Reid called for the need to have a mental conditioning coach.In came Paddy Upton, to join new head coach Craig Fulton, who has plenty of experience working with Indian athletes. While Manpreet was aware of the need to reboot personally, there was an acknowledgment that India needed help in handling high-pressure situations.“When Paddy came in, the conversations were about focussing on the controllables. You can’t control the weather, you can’t control the fans turning up at a venue… don’t worry about the result, focus on the steps to get there. To remain stable ahead of a big match, when the pressure is on,” Manpreet says, about moving on from the World Cup heartbreak.Unlike in 2018, the qualification for Paris 2024 has been taken care of early and the Indian men’s team can now fully focus on fine-tuning their game. It would involve using the Pro League matches to full effect. Their dominance at the Asian level is not in doubt still, but there are bigger targets to check off for Fulton, Harmanpreet, Manpreet, and Co. Lessons must be learned from Odisha 2023 as they look ahead. Also Read: Upcoming games 2024 for console and PC