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Home > Sports > News > PTI > Report

India will finish second or third: Zafar Iqbal

August 13, 2003 18:05 IST

The recent triumphs in Sydney and Hamburg may have raised expectations of the Indian hockey team breaking the Champions Trophy jinx, but former hockey captain Zafar Iqbal feels otherwise. He says the team "looks very close to finishing second or third" in Amsterdam.

The mercurial left-winger, known for his searing runs during his playing days, said India's fortunes in the 25th edition of the tournament, beginning on Saturday, largely depend on how well the team starts.

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Pointing out that the opening match against hosts Holland will be crucial, Iqbal said, "We have to do really well to defend their [Holland's] penalty-corners. It has been their main weapon for the last three decades, what with specialists like Ties Kruize, Paul Litjens and Floris Bovelander. If we don't lose to them, it will boost our confidence."

Iqbal, now a General Manager with Indian Airlines, said the present squad looks capable of delivering.

"We have a better chance than in earlier editions, as the team looks more mature. Individually, and as a team, the confidence is high and finally it looks like we can turn tables," he said.

Commenting on the young guns in the team, Iqbal said players like Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur have learnt how to score goals in international hockey.

"Deepak Thakur and Gagan failed to score goals at Sydney 2000 [the Olympics]. But now they are gaining experience and scoring goals. Earlier they were not mature; now they have gained in confidence and it is good that they have understood international hockey," he said.

After a lacklustre performance in Australia, Gagan Ajit roared back to form in Germany, winning the player of the tournament award in the Panasonic Cup, which India won.

"The team has got enough exposure to go ahead. They just cannot decline from here. They should do well," he said.

Lauding the wonderful form of skipper Dhanraj Pillay, he said Pillay should continue at least till the Athens Olympics.

"He's good and his speed will also help us while defending penalty-corners."

Recalling India's best ever performance in the Champions Trophy, a bronze medal, which was won on the same soil back in 1982, Iqbal said going into the last match India were still in contention for the title but went down to a strong Australian side and eventually finished third.

But he was quick to point out that the best match of the tournament was the 5-4 win over arch-rivals Pakistan, when the team came back from 0-3 down at half-time.

"Trailing by three goals we thought everything was over but Rajinder Singh, the present coach, scored a hat-trick as we clawed back to 3-3," he said, recalling the excitement.

"Pakistan again went ahead 4-3 but we equalled again when Gurmail Singh converted a penalty-stroke.

"Then six minutes before the end I scored the winning goal after combining well with Mohammad Shahid. Inside the striking circle, we foxed the Pakistan goalkeeper, who thought it was going to be a minus pass," he said.

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