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'Hockey team capable of a medal'
August 11, 2004 16:26 IST
The Indian hockey team, led by defender Dilip Tirkey, has enough talent to clinch a medal at Athens Olympics provided its individual brilliance is translated into teamwork, Olympian Zafar Iqbal said.
Despite some controversy in the run-up to the Games, Zafar feels the eight-time gold medallists have enough firepower to regain Olympic glory that has eluded them in the last five Games.
"The team is doing well and there is no doubt about it. We have a clear chance of reaching at least the semi-finals. The squad is well-balanced, having a combination of both experience and youth," Zafar, who captained India from 1982 to 1984, said.
He said although teams like Holland, Australia and Germany are strong contenders for the title, no side can be called clear-cut favourites.
Echoing similar views, former Indian captain M K Kaushik said, "India's chances of making the semi-finals are very bright.
"We have some world class players and I think we can easily reach the semi-finals if we play as a team and according to plan," said Kaushik, also a former Olympian and a national coach.
Kaushik said India needs to tighten its defence and must not concede too many penalty-corners in the Games.
"Tactical work-out is required to iron out these creases and, more importantly, the players must stick to the game plan. They must also score regularly from penalty-corners as it is an important aspect of the game."
Ashok Kumar, former Olympian and son of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, said India need to put in a big effort and display tremendous willpower to make a mark in the prestigious competition.
"Give little chance to the opposition to attack your post and at the same time to keep up the pressure on the rival defence should be the side's strategy," said Ashok Kumar, whose memorable winner against Pakistan gave India the 1975 World Cup.
Kumar said India's chances in the mega event would greatly depend on how the seasoned forwards, including Dhanraj Pillay, who will be playing in his fourth Olympics, perform.
"The combination of Deepak Thakur, Gagan Ajit Singh and Dhanraj has the ability to rip apart any defence."
National selector and former player Aslam Sher Khan said the Olympics would provide a great test to the young players, particularly to Sandeep Singh, who is expected to fit into the shoes of ace drag-flicker Jugraj Singh.
"Sandeep has performed exceptionally well in the junior level and I hope he would come good at Athens," Khan said.
He also justified the Indian Hockey Federation's decision to remove chief coach Rajinder Singh and appoint Gerhard Rach in his place just a few days before the Olympics.
"India's first foreign coach has infused a new life into the team," he argued.
The former champions, pitted in Pool B, last won a gold medal in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which saw a boycott from the Western bloc.