India's incredible run at the Champions Trophy which ended in a dramatic manner last night has evoked admiration and stoked controversy over the existing shootout rules. Former players and coaches spoke to ESPN offering their take on India's performance, umpiring blunders and the side's realistic chances in Rio:
How would you rate the Indian performance in the Champions Trophy?
Simon Mason (Former GBR goalkeeper and three-time Olympian): This was definitely the best Indian performance I have seen in the last four years. Last night in particular was just phenomenal, and overall through the week, this was the most consistent Indian performance that I have ever seen. They played well even in the World League final (in Raipur in December) where they beat Netherlands in the shootout to win bronze, but last night's match was just incredible. I have never seen an Indian team show so much discipline, commitment and fitness levels.
Cedric D'Souza (Former Indian coach): I thought the Indian team was absolutely brilliant. They showed a lot of good defensive structure. They played well to their strengths, which has always been quick elimination and swift counter-attacks. For me, even their penalty-corner conversions worked very well. Overall, this Indian team is on a very good wicket. It will only get better with the likes of Sardar Singh, Rupinderpal Singh, Birendra Lakra, Ramandeep Singh and Dharamvir Singh.
V Baskaran (Former India captain who led the side to gold at 1980 Olympics): The Indian side put up a very impressive performance last night. The umpiring, however, has been miserable in the tournament. India played with five defenders, two midfielders and three players upfront which showed a defensive approach.
What stood out for you that made this team look better than past Indian teams?
Simon Mason: They had been a little bit up and down across the first week - individuals had performed well from time to time - but last night was just the perfect storm from the Indians. Everything came together against the best side in the world. We could see at the end of the game when they sank to their knees, that they were tired. That was because they had just decided that they would run Australia to the ground. That is the only way to play Australia, actually. I have to say I have never seen an Australian team rattled as much as they were last night!
Cedric D'Souza: I think the biggest difference was the amount of pressure they put on the opposition teams in each game. The ball-carrier was always put under pressure by the Indians, and even the strikers were falling back to help build that pressure on the opposition. In none of the games were the opposition allowed to play with any kind of freedom.
V Baskaran: I think the way they played under pressure was great. The frustration among the Australian players was visible. Despite a number of senior players not being there in the side, the young boys stepped up. Also the side's fitness levels were noteworthy. It was mirrored in their confidence on field. The 8-second rule has been a total failure. Who's keeping a tab on whether the 8-second limit is being exceeded? Is there a third umpire? It must be given a re-thought ahead of the Olympics. In the previous game, a referral was made by umpire after the game was over.
Who were the individuals that impressed you the most?
Simon Mason: I think everybody played their part, especially in the final. Manpreet (Singh) had a great game in midfield. (SV) Sunil was phenomenal as an attacker all week long. And this was the most mobile I have seen (VR) Raghunath play while defending. Harmanpreet (Singh) was very good and fully deserving of the best junior player award. PR Sreejesh had a huge week; his performance in the final was simply unbelievable. I think what stood out this time was the decision-making of a young side. India have always been blessed with great hockey skills, but this time they showed immense mental strength and physical capacity.
Cedric D'Souza: As a coach myself, I would never want to point out any individuals. I would say that all lines performed their part superbly. If I had to pick out one performer, I would say Harmanpreet Singh, because he was exceptional both in attack as well as defence.
V Baskaran: I thought the entire team came together as a unit. Especially the defenders alongwith Sreejesh did a commendable job. They played the final in less than 24 hours from their previous match so the recovery time was really less. It shows the side's resilience.
What are the areas for improvement looking at Rio?
Simon Mason: If I were to analyse this tournament, I would want to ignore the penalty-corner conversion rate, because there was so much rain around that the pitch quality wasn't the best. I think they will always do much better on a quicker pitch. Though they missed some scoring opportunities, their composure was admirable. Normally, they play a very direct game where Raghu crashes the ball into the circle. But this time they were a lot more controlled. You saw the likes of Sunil, Mandeep (Singh), Manpreet showing more willingness to play the baselines. Especially in last night's final, it wasn't just headless counterattacks. There seemed a better strategy in place. This will only get better when the likes of Sardar Singh and Rupinderpal Singh join this team.
Cedric D'Souza: At times, they were guilty of giving away some soft fouls. They must also look to maintain their intensity and not just play well in patches. Big tournaments will require you to play with the same consistency day in and day out. But I must say this time I was very impressed with the Indian team. They used the rolling substitutions better than most other teams. They suffocated the opposition and never allowed them to play freely. The Indians did to the others what they have been doing to the Indians all these years!
V Baskaran: I think the number of unforced errors is an area of concern and also the penalty-corner conversion rate could do with a bit more fine-tuning.
How much out of 10 would you award the Indian team?
Simon Mason: I would rate this Indian performance 8 out of 10 overall. For just last night, I would have to say 9, as nobody in recent times has given Australia such a strong challenge. They did dip to 7 a couple of times over the course of the week, but last night was the best Indian performance in a long, long time.
Cedric D'Souza: I think you can never attain perfection in this sport. I wouldn't want to grade their performance, for the simple reason that how do you define what is 10? I would just say they were simply superb!
V Baskaran: I think I would give them 8 out of 10 just for the fearless brand of hockey that they played through the tournament.
How do you see this Indian team's chances in Rio?
Simon Mason: I think they will struggle to get a medal, if I am perfectly honest. I say that because while they played very well here, they haven't shown that consistency to make the top three. They will need more of a cutting edge to reach the top three. They should make the quarterfinals and they would be an outside bet for the semifinals, and once you get there, anything could happen on a given day. Australia are far ahead of the rest; they should win it. Second would be either one of Germany or the Netherlands. And for third place, I will be patriotic and say Great Britain. I suppose you would say the same for India. I can actually foresee a possible quarterfinal between these two teams, and if that happens, it could be whoever plays better on that day. They are both very good teams, but just not consistent enough. For India, I can definitely see them as quarterfinalists, and then they will need to be consistent to finish with a medal.
Cedric D'Souza: If they play like they did in London, they will do very well. I don't think it is possible to make a prediction, because so much of it will depend on how other teams are able to perform too. But if India show the same intensity and can maintain this standard of performance, they will exceed all expectations in Rio.
V Baskaran: I think our chance for a medal finish cannot be ruled out given the quality of play and the confidence the side has displayed.