Mumbai: Four-time Olympian and former national hockey captain Dhanraj Pillay has termed India's campaign opener against the formidable Netherlands in the upcoming London Olympics on July 30 as a very crucial encounter.
"I have taken part in four Olympics and we had invariably lost the opening game [barring once]. It's crucial for the Indian team to win the first game," the one-time mercurial centre forward saud at the "Monnet Go for Gold" torch relay function in Mumbai on Wednesday.
India had lost their opening games in three out of four Olympic Games hockey that Dhanraj had taken part in. The team had lost 0-3 to the eventual gold medal winners Germany in the opening game in 1992 Barcelona Olympics before finishing seventh eventually.
The Indians, similarly, lost their lung-openers against Argentina at Atlanta four years later by a lone goal to finally end up in the eighth spot and the story got repeated at the 2004 Athens Games when they lost 1-3 to Germany before finishing seventh overall.
The only exception to the trend during this period was the 2000 Sydney Games, when they thrashed their nemesis Argentina 3-0 in the opening game before narrowly failing to clinch a semi-final spot and then finally ending up seventh.
In London, the Indian men are placed in Group B alongside back-to-back Olympic gold medal winners (1996 and 2000) Holland, Belgium, 1992 and 2008 winners Germany, South Korea and New Zealand.
Dhanraj also felt that the team needs to quickly adjust to the blue and pink turf on offer at the London Games. "We have probably one blue pitch in Ludhiana. The team needs to get used to playing on the blue surface quickly," said Dhanraj, adding that he would be pleased with a top-six finish.
"I expect a top-six finish for the team. I would be very happy if they do so," said Dhanraj, who also praised India's chief coach Michael Nobbs for the "very good job he has done over the last one to one-and-a-half years."
Dhanraj was confident that once the Olympic Games begin on July 27, feuding tennis stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi will put the selection controversy behind and put their best foot forward to bring laurels for the country.
"I know Paes. He's a fighter. So is Bhupathi, like me. They have had differences over the years, but this time it has gone too much. But I am sure they will put these things, which have occupied centre space in the media, behind during the Olympics and fight to bring laurels for the country," the temperamental Pillay said.
Dhanraj was also all praise for the Monnet Group for its support to games other than cricket.
The group, the primary sponsors of the Indian boxing squad to the Olympics, has announced that gold medal winning boxers at the London Games would get Rs. 51 lakh, silver medal winners Rs. 21 lakh and bronze medallists Rs. 11 lakh.
The boxing squad comprises seven men, including Beijing Games bronze medallist Vijender Singh, and lone woman pugilist MC Mary Kom - a five-time world champion.