Ipoh: The lows of Indian hockey have far outnumbered the highs in recent times, but captain Sardar Singh on Saturday said the "belief" could return if the team wins the Asia Cup.
Sardar and drag-flicker VR Raghunath were the only members of the present team who were part of the Indian side which failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a massive low given that the country was an eight-time gold-medallist at the event.
The star midfielder said winning a major tournament was long overdue for Indian hockey and the Asia Cup triumph would infuse new "life" into the game back home. "It's been a long time since we tasted any good win or won a major tournament. The Asia Cup win can bring back belief among hockey lovers in India," Sardar told PTI in an interview a day before the title-clash against South Korea.
Indian men's hockey team after beating Malaysia in the semi-final. (Hockey India)
"The Asia Cup title can motivate youngsters who are leaving the game and taking up other sports. I hope this win can infuse life back into Indian hockey. I hope this win can bring back smiles on the faces of Indian sports lovers. Indian hockey requires the Asia Cup title," he said.
India on Friday defeated Malaysia 2-0 to enter the final of the Asia Cup. In the summit clash, India will face defending champions South Korea, who shattered Pakistan's World Cup hopes with a 2-1 victory in the first semi-final.
"Indian hockey required this win [against Malaysia]. But the best thing is continuing our winning run. The credit goes to all the young players. I know how hard and high intensity our training in the last 5-6 weeks has been. But still we are yet to achieve our main aim," said Sardar.
Pakistan's defeat means both India and Malaysia have all but qualified for next year's World Cup to be held at The Hague, Netherlands, pending official confirmation from the International Hockey Federation (FIH) which will come only after the conclusion of the Oceania Cup in November.
Asked about the positive development, Sardar said even though they had less pressure going into the match against Malaysia, the team had only one goal in mind - to return victorious from here.
"There was less pressure but from the very beginning before coming here, we just had one thing in mind - we want to win the Asia Cup," he said. "There was a meeting before the match and we knew that Pakistan's loss has more or less secured our World Cup berth. But we were completely focused on the semi-final against Malaysia.
"The next match [against Korea] is very important. It will be hard but the way the team is playing, we are confident of pulling it off," he added.
Pakistan, four-time World Cup champions, will be missing the showpiece event for the first time since the inception of the tournament in 1971. And Sardar, a self-proclaimed lover of Pakistan hockey, said he was disappointed with the development.
"Indian and Pakistani hockey is quite similar and people enjoy a lot. Personally, I am feeling very sad that they didn't qualify for the World Cup. I like Pakistan hockey. But they have to accept the reality, it's part of life," he signed off.