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Azlan Shah defeat avenged: Harendra
April 30, 2004 20:18 IST
Last Updated: April 30, 2004 20:28 IST
"This is the best gift we could have given to the country and this is the happiest moment in my life. By beating Pakistan on their home soil we showed how hockey is played," Harendra told reporters on Friday, on arrival from Pakistan, where they beat the hosts 5-2 in the final to clinch the Asia Cup for the first time.
Harendra was the coach of an experimental Indian team that took part in the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in January this year. India finished last in the tournament, playing one draw and suffering five losses, which included the 2-3 defeat to Pakistan.
Harendra said it was dream of every Indian player to beat Pakistan on their home soil and with the win his boys proved that they are "tougher" than their arch-rivals.
"Mind games come to the fore whenever the two sides meet. My boys proved that they are tougher than their opponents.
"It's a dream of every team to beat Pakistan in Pakistan. It's the ultimate achievement for a player," he added.
Harendra said the title win proved that some of the youngsters have gained in maturity that they need to play at the highest level.
"This team has played 30 matches so far with a 100 per cent record. This shows the mental toughness of the players. They are hungry for victory, which is very important to be successful at the highest level.
"The players have matured enough and quite capable of playing at the senior level. Now it is up to the selectors and the senior coach to decide," he said.
Even though individual brilliance was on display in the tournament, Harendra declined to give credit to any particular player for the triumph, saying: "It was a collective effort and the entire team deserves credit for the win."
The ten-nation tournament saw penalty-corner specialist Sandeep Singh emerge the leading goal scorer with 16 goals, most of them coming through drag flicks. But Harendra was not ready to compare him with penalty-corner expert Jugraj Singh, who is out of action following a road accident last year.
"It's too early to compare him with Jugraj Singh, who is a great player. I hope he will come back. But we must be happy that a player of Jugraj's caliber is coming up. So I think it is double delight for Indian hockey lovers. Sandeep is no doubt a fine player and has a long future."
Harendra said his next aim is to help India retain the junior World Cup title that the team won in Hobart, Australia, in 2001.
"The boys are confident and I am looking forward to the World Cup in Amstelveen, The Netherlands, next year."
Captain Sandeep Michael said the emergence of young players should help the senior national team to a great extent.
"Now that we have so many juniors who can play in the main team, it would definitely add to the bench strength. This win was a great all-round performance," said Michael, who also plays for the senior national team.
"We played some games against Pakistan this year and lost almost all of them. So this is a fantastic win. We would cherish it for a long time," he added.
Sandeep Singh, who scored two goals in the final against Pakistan, said he enjoyed playing against Pakistan and reserved his best for the arch-rivals.
"I like playing against Pakistan and scoring against them. I try my best to score. I don't mind if I fail to score against any other team, but against Pakistan my aim is to score as many goals as possible," he said.
The player also said he would like to get a place in the team for the Olympics.
"My aim is to play in the Olympics. If the selectors feel I deserve a place in the side then they will take me."
The team was received at the airport among others by mercurial forward Dhanraj Pillay and goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan.
"I was in the capital. So I thought of coming to the airport and greeting the team on its feat," Pillay said.