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Gagan Ajit's team has tough task
December 09, 2005 20:36 IST
India will be hoping to capitalise on home advantage and amend their dubious track record in the 27th Champions Trophy hockey tournament, which begins at the Mayor Radhakrishnan stadium in Chennai on Saturday.
Alongside world champions Germany, Olympic champions Australia, defending champions Spain and Rabo eight-nation tourney champions Pakistan, India is the only team that has nothing special to flaunt, except a side with a balanced look.
Also, the Indians, who will go into the tournament as underdogs, have nothing to lose and any progress over their last year's performance of a fourth-place finish would only add to the confidence of the team.
However, the glaring problem for the Indians will be the absence of the dependable defender Dilip Tirkey, who was also originally named captain, as he has been one of the most consistent performers over the last decade.
The new captain Gagan Ajit Singh may have the leadership qualities to command respect, but the star striker cannot escape the burden at the back created due to the absence of an indisposed Tirkey.
If any of the able linkmen like Viren Rasquinha or Ignace Tirkey are asked to give support to the defence, then it would also affect game in the midfield.
The revised schedule might have eased the Indians up a bit as they are meeting Spain tomorrow instead of the powerful Aussies in the opener. But that cannot make much discount on the pressure front as the hosts meet archrivals Pakistan, who are in cracking form and are boosted up by the return of their captain Mohammad Saqlain, the next day.
At least, the hosts, who have finished disappointing fifth and seventh in Azlan Shah and Rabo tournaments respectively this year, cannot afford to lose the first two games before meeting stronger sides like Australia, Germany and the Netherlands.
Indian coach Rajinder Singh expressed confidence that India would exploit the home advantage to put up a good show.
"I hope we will do well on home turf," Singh said.
Spain, who won the title in Lahore last year, are also no push-overs as they have shaped up well under the able guidance of coach Maurits Hendriks. The recent feather in their cap is the European Championship title this year which they achieved by upstaging stronger sides like the Netherlands and Germany.
However, Hendriks is not overconfident, knowing well that the elite six teams are in the fray and none would take it lightly considering the fact that this is the first major tournament before the all important World Cup next year.
"No team is going to be a push-over at this event. The difference among the six teams is just marginal. I am particularly impressed by Pakistan's resurgence. I have to get my boys back to top intensity despite missing my injured captain Juan Escarre," Hendriks said.
The Germans, who have not won the tournament since 2001, would also be eagerly looking forward to return as winners.
The Australians, who opted out of last year's Champions Trophy in Lahore due to security reasons, have high hopes from the tournament as they fielded a strong line-up boasting 13 gold medallists from last year's Athens Olympics team.