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India won't take Kiwis lightly
June 24, 2006 20:55 IST
India will be determined to make amends for their narrow defeat in the semi-finals when they take on New Zealand in the bronze medal playoff at the Azlan Shah hockey tournament in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.
The disappointment over missing out on a chance to have a go at the title must be rankling Dilip Tirkey's men but they would do well to finish the tournament with a podium finish, a target coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran had set before embarking for Malaysia.
India had conceded a late goal in the semi-final against the Netherlands on Friday after an overall creditable show in the eight-nation tourney.
But the Indians will do well to leave behind their despair and focus at the task at hand as New Zealand are no pushovers.
While throwing a word of caution about the Kiwis, who are capable of pulling off an upset, Bhaskaran said his team could claim the bronze if they played positively.
"New Zealand cannot be underestimated. They are a good side, but if we play far more positively than we did against Holland yesterday, then I am confident that we can achieve our pre-tournament target of a podium finish here," said Bhaskaran.
Having arrived here in advance to acclimatise to the hot and humid conditions, the Indians should take heart from the fact that they had won both their practice matches against New Zealand with an identical 3-2 scoreline.
However, the Indian camp is worried about the fitness of left-half Prabhodh Tirkey, who is suffering from a groin muscle pull. But the lively player is expected to take the field in the crucial third place playoff tomorrow.
If the Indians show the kind of aggression and tempo they exhibited while beating Malaysia 5-2 and Korea 3-0, after losing 1-4 to Australia in the league matches, and eschew the defensive posture they adopted in the semi-finals, then the bronze medal could be theirs for the asking.
New Zealand, who will again be able to avail the services of their key playmaker Ryan Archibald, are set to unleash their full potential to win the third place ahead of India.
"We sorely missed Ryan Archibald, our key central midfielder last night against the Aussies. A few other players were also nursing niggles and flu. Hopefully, they would all be fit for the India game tomorrow," said manager Peter Miskimmin.
The title clash, on the other hand, is likely to be a fascinating affair with Olympic champions and holders Australia taking on the Netherlands, who have never won the crown here.
The Dutch and the Aussies have been sizing up one another, but neither camp was willing to make a definitive statement on their chances of winning the final.
Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans said: "Australia is a powerful side and they have been gradually improving. We know that they are without some of their key players, but still they are always a difficult side to beat. We need to deny them early success, because once the Aussies are in their flow, then they cannot be stopped."
The Dutch have not been at their best in this tournament.
"We had only a week's training after a long and tiring domestic league. But like all other teams, we are preparing for the World Cup and this is an important tournament for us to get together and play as a team," said Oltmans.
For the statistically-minded, Australia have dominated the Dutch in recent years. In the 2004 Olympics, Australia won their maiden gold medal with a 2-1 win, thanks to the golden goal by Jamie Dwyer.
Subsequently, the Aussies beat the Dutch twice in the 2005 Champions Trophy in Chennai, 3-2 (league) and 3-1 (final).
The Aussies will also remember the 4-1 semi-final victory at this very venue in the 2002 World Cup.
But Australian coach Barry Dancer would have none of that.
"Our main focus now is on the World Cup. True, we showed good form against New Zealand last night, but on Sunday, we have to start afresh. The Dutch are a fine side with a solid defence. We would be hoping for an early strike and then build on that. It should be a good match," he said.
Thus, while the Aussies start the final as hot favourites, the Dutch will be hoping to ambush their rivals with a patient game.
Sunday's fixtures (IST):
1230: India vs New Zealand (for 3-4 positions)
1430: Australia vs the Netherlands (final).