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Performance did not match potential: Harendra

July 11, 2005 17:48 IST

India's fourth place finish in the just-concluded Rabobank men's Junior World Cup hockey tournament did little justice to their inherent talent and potential. But for long-time watchers of Indian hockey, it is an oft-heard comment.

At the start of the 16-team competition, India coach Harendra Singh had felt that his team had the ability to go all the way and retain the World Cup, won in 2001 at Hobart, Australia.

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"Our ultimate objective here [Rotterdam] is to retain the World Cup, and I feel my team has the talent and potential to do so," he had said.

However, the confluence of potential and performance occurred only twice in the entire tournament, against the Netherlands, whom India beat 4-1 in the preliminary league, and in the first-half of the semi-final versus Australia, when they led 2-0.

In other matches, the Indians struggled to find their flow and rhythm, resulting in generally lackadaisical performances.

India's form touched the nadir in their last three league matches, against Spain, to whom they lost 0-4, Korea (3-1) and England (1-0).

"It was pressure situation for the boys and they just could not perform," said Harendra.

Even India's progress through the first round of league matches hardly raised any hopes of an eventual Cup triumph.

After overcoming Egypt 4-1 in their lung-opener, the Indians struggled to beat Poland 3-2, nearly squandering a comfortable 3-1 lead. Then came their best performance, a 4-1 drubbing of the Netherlands in a match that saw the Indian team at its sparkling best.

However, India's form dipped dramatically and it was not until they met Australia in the semi-finals that they picked themselves up. Here too it was only in the first 35 minutes that the Indians played at the top of their game, combining quite beautifully while weaving a web of old magic.

Despite the disappointing finish, India can count on a few gains. Individually, the likes of forwards Tushar Khandekar and V Raja, and midfielders Nithin Kumar and V S Vinaya, enjoyed a good tournament. The trio, along with skipper and goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza are certainly good prospects.

As for the rest, especially penalty-corner specialist Sandeep Singh, very little could be said by way of high praise. Sandeep, no doubt, exhibited his growing expertise at penalty-corner conversions, but as a full-back, he was found wanting in covering and tackling. Similarly, fellow-defender William Xalco was disappointing and committed far too many mistakes.

A few other players, notably forwards Birendar Lakra and Hari Prasad, and centre-half Vivek Gupta, are good investments for the future. At the moment, though, they can do with a bit more training and international exposure that should see them blossom forth.

Coach Harendra Singh, when asked about his assessment of the team, declined to touch upon individual players.

"The fact that we got this far was due to team effort. I would like to thank all the players, though I admit that the performance did not match the potential. I think that India has plenty of talent and, frankly, I am not too worried about the future."

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