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India face China in Asia Cup opener
August 30, 2007 19:32 IST
Joaquim Carvalho's boys have to play out of their skins to defend their title as India take on a promising Chinese side in the inaugural match of the Asia Cup hockey tournament in Chennai on Friday.
Placed in the tougher six-team Pool B, India's bid for a semi-final berth in the biggest ever Asia Cup so far is not going to be a cakewalk as they will meet the higher ranked Koreans in their next group outing at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium on Monday.
However, a resurgent India have left behind the debacles at the World Cup and the Asian Games last year in gathering two bronze medals this year while rubbing shoulders with quality opponents.
Coach Carvalho has won accolades for guiding his troops well and striking a balance between young and experienced players.
The podium finishes at the Azlan Shah Cup and Champions Challenge have done a world of good to the sagging morale of the players, who are now willing to take the battle into the opponents' camp.
After reaching here after the camp in Bangalore, Carvalho exuded immense confidence in his boys, whom he said were "playing cohesively" and getting stronger as a team.
The Indians are well-prepared for the event but for one area -- penalty corner conversion.
With star drag-flicker Sandeep Singh getting injured during the camp, youngster V Raghunath will have the onus of having a go at the rival goal off short corners.
Trained by the popular Korean coach Kim Sang Ryul, China drew everybody's attention after they toppled continental powerhouses India and Pakistan at the Doha Asian Games on their way to bag the silver medal which has brought them respect from traditionally formidable sides.
Pool A has former champions Pakistan, whose late entry into the tournament has added glamour to the event, which has recently been accorded ranking status by the FIH.
However, the continental showpiece assumes significance for India and Malaysia who are seeking berths for the Beijing extravaganza.
Since its inception in 1982, Pakistan has won the tournament three times so far - in the inaugural year, 1985 and 1989. Korea has clinched the cup twice, in 1993 and 1999, while India once in the Kuala Lumpur edition in 2003.
Pool A: Pakistan, Japan [Images], Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore
Pool B: Korea, India, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka [Images] and Thailand.