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Young India hope to make amends
December 03, 2004 17:54 IST
With a young team at its disposal, India will be keen to put behind the disappointment of the Athens Olympics by coming up with an improved performance in the elite Champions Trophy hockey tournament, starting in Lahore on Saturday.
A seventh-place finish at Athens must still be rankling hockey lovers, who are now desperate for a better showing in the six-nation tournament, for which India qualified by default after Australia pulled out at the last moment on security grounds.
But if the performance of the inexperienced players in the eight-match series against Pakistan and the recent two-match series against Spain is any indication, India could at least equal its best ever performance in the six-nation elite event.
The team finished third in 1982 at Amstelveen, Holland, and going by the team's potential, a third place finish looks difficult but not improbable.
"This is a tough tournament with the top six teams battling for the honours. We have a young side but that is not going to keep us down. We are going to give our best shot," captain Dilip Tirkey said on the eve of India's match against Olympic semi-finalists Spain.
But to leave an impression, India must start in right earnest by winning their lung opener and collecting maximum points as things could only get tougher for them as this round-robin tournament progresses.
India face defending champions Holland on Sunday, Germany on Tuesday, arch-rivals and hosts Pakistan on Wednesday, New Zealand on Friday and their showing in these matches will be crucial to their chances.
India coach Gerhard Rach appeared quite confident of his boys' abilities and said they have come to the tournament with "some very good preparation".
"We know what our position is and have prepared really hard. I have given it my best try since I had almost four months to prepare for the event," Rach said.
Rach agreed that a win tomorrow against Spain, who tied the two-match series with India 1-1 recently, would give a huge boost to the confidence of the players.
"Spain are a very good side. They have made some changes after the Olympics but retained the core of the team around which the team revolves. On the other hand, we have a new forward line and some inexperienced players. But I can say we have a better forward-line than before."
India will be relying heavily on their captain and senior-most player Dilip Tirkey for inspiration when they take on the mighty teams in the competition.
Dilip, who was bogged by an injury during the Test series against Spain, has so far led the team by example in the absence of several star players and he would be hoping his young guns fire at the elite event.
Dilip's state mate William Xalco will assist his captain in manning Indian defence along with Harpal Singh and Sandeep Singh, who doubles up as a penalty-corner expert.
The mid-field will be boosted by the complete recovery of Vikram Pillay from a hamstring injury. The Pune-based player will have Viren Rasquinha and Ignace Tirkey for company in the half line.
The team's firepower sorely depends on the scoring abilities of Arjun Halappa, Sandeep Michael, Tushar Khandekar, V S Vinay, Adam Sinclair and Vivek Gupta.
The goalkeeping position will be a toss-up between Adrian D'Souza, who has excelled under the bar since making his debut earlier this year, and veteran Devesh Chauhan, who showed glimpses of his class in the Test series against Spain after playing second fiddle to his junior for almost last six months.
Spain, who struggled in the Test series, will be keen to pull up their socks before it is too late.
The team has come to the competition with full preparation and coach Maurits Hendriks would not let go this opportunity to prove to the world the might of his boys.
The side will bank heavily on Santiago Freixa and Ramon Alegre besides the experience of captain Juan Escarre to come out with flying colours.
But hogging the limelight would be defending champions Holland, who will complete a hat-trick of titles if they win this edition of the tournament.
Coach Terry Walsh, set to join his Australian team after this tournament, must be keen to sign off from his position on a winning note.
Likewise, Pakistan's current coach Roelant Oltmans will also take up a coaching job with his national team, the Netherlands, after this tournament.
India: Adrian D'Souza, Devesh Chauhan, Dilip Tirkey, Sandeep Singh, Harpal Singh, William Xalco, Viren Rasquinha, Vikram Pillay, Ignace Tirkey, V S Vinay, Girish Pimpale, Prabodh Tirkey, Vivek Gupta, Adam Sinclair, Arjun Halappa, Sandeep Michael, Tushar Khandekar, Hari Prasad.
Spain: Berbardino Herrera, Santiago Freixa, Paul Quembda, Francisco Fabregas, Andreu Enrich, Juan Escarre, Alex Fabregas, Victor Sojo, Alberto Esteban, Ramon Alegre, Albert Sala, Rodrigo Garza, Sergi Enrique, Eduard Arbos, Francisco Cortes, David Alegre, Inacio Alborch, Juan Fernandez.