India's mission in the Atlanta Olympic faced some obstacles in the very early period, as the team lost to Australia (1-3) and Great Britain (1-2), in pre-Olympic training games. However, Indian became successful to beat South Korea in another warm-up game, but the losses caused huge damage to the confidence of the team. India played its first match in Atlanta Olympics, against Argentina and Dhanraj Pillay was determined to conceal India's failure to reach the Semi-Finals in the Barcelona Olympics. India and Argentina met at the Clark Atlanta University ground. India started the match on an attacking mode and the strikers like Dhanraj Pillay, Sabu Varkey and Mukesh Kumar created a lot of openings for goal. However, as they missed sitters and also couldn't put away five Penalty corners, India failed to get a lead in the match. Dhanraj himself missed a great opportunity in the middle of the first half, when he delayed his slap shot, allowing the Argentine goalkeeper to cover the angle. The Argentineans made a good come back in the second half of the match and scored their first goal early in the half. As the Indian players failed to regain their speed, India eventually lost the match by 0-1 to Argentina. Dhanraj Pillay's performance in the match was quite disappointing as he missed a number of goal-scoring chances against Argentina.
India played the second match against the Olympic champions, Germany and India was in such a situation that it could afford to lose this match, if it wanted to enter into the Semi-Finals. The match saw the German team dominating throughout the first half and the Indian team failing to create any pressure on their opponents. Dhanraj Pillay failed to make any good move in the first half, as the German defenders marked him quite well. However, he played well in the second half and created good space for Mukesh and Sanjeev to score goals against the German team. None of the teams became able to score a goal till the last 10 minutes of the match and Dhanraj Pillay made an extraordinary effort with only 8 minutes to go in the match. Dhanraj made a great run to the German defense, after snatching a ball from one of the German midfielders and forced the German defenders to go after him. While doing so, the Germans left Mukesh Kumar unmarked into the German striking circle. Dhanraj then nicely released the ball for Mukesh and the Indian forward struck a glorious rising shot into the goal to give India the lead. However, India could not hold the lead for long, as Germany scored the equaliser only few minutes before the end of play. The match saw some more attacks and counter-attacks from both the teams, however, all the efforts remained fruitless and the match ended on a 1-1 draw.
In the next match of the Atlanta Olympic, 1996, India played against the United States and as Dhanraj Pillay excelled in the match to score 2 goals, India successfully beat United States by 4-0. India had four points with them and its biggest match at Atlanta was against its arch rivals Pakistan, where it needed a must win. The win would set the team up with seven points and a match in hand. Dhanraj Pillay was quite confident about a good performance in the match, after getting the win against the United States. India seemed on their way to play one of their best matches in the Olympics in the first few minutes of the match, as Mukesh Kumar and Dhanraj made some good moves. Both the players continued to put on pressure on the Pakistani defense, however, the first half remained goalless. Dhanraj in the 7th minute of the second half earned a penalty corner. However, the benefit of the penalty corner could not be materialised. India got the much needed goal in the dying minutes of the match, when Baljit Singh Saini deflected a shot from Harpreet Singh into the goal. However, the goal was disallowed by the Umpire for dangerous play. The match remained drawn after the specified duration.
In the last league match of the Atlanta Olympics, the Indian team successfully beat Spain by 3-1, where Dhanraj Pillay once again played brilliantly. However, the dreams of India for entering into the Semi-Finals were shattered by that time. India played against South Korea in the play-offs for 5th/6th positions, and the team threw away a 3-1 lead by letting the Koreans to come back into the match. The match remained drawn during the specified period of time and India eventually lost the match on penalties. India then played for the 7th/8th positions against Great Britain. The worries for India continued in this match also and as Dhanraj Pillay failed to show a good performance, the team lost the match by 3-4 to Great Britain to finish Atlanta Olympics in the 8th position.
(Last Updated on : 01-01-2011)
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