BHUBANESWAR : Around 5.30 pm on Thursday, president Olivier Moreau sat down to explain the long-term objectives of the France Hockey Federation (FFH). While watching the Spain-New Zealand encounter, he hoped that the French men’s team would be competitive enough to challenge for medals by the time they hosted the 2024 Olympics.
They might as well advance the project by a full six years as France engineered one of the greatest takedowns in World Cup history to beat Olympic champions Argentina in a madcap encounter which ultimately finished 5-3. In the process, the World No 20 eliminated Spain and bumped New Zealand into third place in Pool A.
“We need to to be able to write history by 2024,” Moreau said. Inside the dressing room before the match, coach Jeroen Delmee was making a similar speech. Spain’s 2-2 result against New Zealand had left France with no alternative but to go for a win or a 5-5 draw (or greater) to advance. So Delmee, whose career as a player was greater than France’s entire history in the sport, issued a Churchillian call to arms. “Have some hope,” he cried. “Dare to dream. Create history.”
The lowest ranked team at the tournament not only created history but ensured that the World Cup came alive after a series of predictable scoresheets. There was a touch of complacency to the way Argentina approached the encounter — captain Pedro Ibarra admitted as much — but that shouldn’t take away credit from France. “What we did today... it wasn’t normal,” captain Victor Charlet said. France scored four goals in the second quarter alone to light up the small army of travelling fans. Two belated Gonzalo Peillat penalty corners threatened to spoil the party but Charlet’s loud roar after the final hooter spoke volumes about how far they have come in a short period of time.
Watching on, Moreau will have felt goosebumps. Not just because of the thrilling potential of this young side but also because of the federation’s ambitious plans to put French hockey on the world map with the help of Hockey India. “Long time ago, the French were very good in hockey,” he said. “To get back our place, we have to start writing a new story.”
This story involves sending a bunch of young girls every year till the 2024 Olympics. “What we plan to do is to go from bottom to the top, so that the development is holistic. We have an agreement in place with HI but it will only be applicable to the women’s programme for the time being.”
Moreau, who was a player for the national team decades ago, said this agreement was because of the hockey culture in the country. “When I was a player, India had the best hockey culture. We want to instil that culture among the players. To do that, our girls’ team will spend 10 days here every year from 2019 to 2024.” A few of the federation’s employees, as well as umpires registered with the FFH, will also be on the trip. With projects like that, FFH hope to make a significant jump of at least eight places in the rankings within the next three years. It was considered impossible before Thursday. Nobody will dare to tell them that now.