November 8, 2001

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'I have achieved as a coach what I couldn't as a player'

Ivan Crasto

Coach Rajinder Singh had more than one reason to celebrate when India beat Argentina 6-1 in the final of the seventh edition of the junior men's hockey World Cup in Hobart, on October 21.

It was his second title as coach, following the junior Asia Cup (under-18) triumph in June this year.

Rajinder Message In the process, the former full-back, who was part of India's gold medal-winning team at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and also part of the 1982 World Cup team, also realized his dream of also winning a World Cup gold. ''I am glad I have finally achieved as a coach what I couldn't do as a player for India... that is win the World Cup,'' he told India Abroad after returning to Mumbai on October 23 with his triumphant boys.

Excerpts from the conversation:

How does it feel to be an Olympic and World champion?
Great. I can't express my feelings in words.

So what was the key to the team's success?
Aggressive hockey. We combined the old Indian style of skillful attacking hockey with the modern style of hard hitting and hard running. This combination brought us victory. I should also mention that the Indian Hockey Federation, by sending the team abroad for various tournaments and helping them gain exposure, helped immensely.

Did you go into the tournament expecting to win the Cup?
Yes, I knew we had a strong team and most of the players had played many international matches. I told the boys that if we convert our chances, we would win. And that is exactly what happened -- our players combined very well, and always put pressure on the opposition right from the start.

Which would you say was the toughest game?
I would say all the matches were tough. There are no easy games in modern hockey. However, I feel, the match against Australia was the toughest because we had to win after drawing with Argentina. We lost, but then we played our best hockey against the Netherlands in a match that was do-or-die. That victory, which took us into the semifinals, made us believe we could win the title.

How about the semi-final against Germany?
We knew we needed early goals. Once we got those, and went in 3-0 at half time, I knew we would win. The Germans did score twice in the second half, but our boys were playing well, I wasn't worried. I knew we were through to the final.

Did you expect to win the final so easily, since Argentina had drawn 2-2 with India in the second round?
Well, I don't know how many chances we missed in that second round game. We should have won that by half a dozen goals, actually. I was sure we could beat that team, though I didn't think it would be this easy.

The Winning team Who were the main players who fashioned the victory?
I can't point to anyone. It was a complete team effort. All our players were capable of playing in the first eleven. There were no extras or reserves in the team. Each one could fit in at any given time.

There is a suggestion that you should now take over as coach of the senior team.
That is all wrong. Cedric D'Souza is the chief coach. And some of the boys have played under C R Kumar (the assistant coach at the World Cup) as well. For my part, I will give my inputs. Let's hope we all work together to build a winning team. I am proud of this team. Now we need to take this win and turn it into something bigger, at the senior World Cup next year.

Mail Sports Editor