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India can regain Olympic glory: Carvalho
June 22, 2007 19:59 IST
Hockey coach Joaquim Carvalho believes that Indian men's team has the talent to excel at the 2008 Beijing [Images] Games, and Champions Challenge tournament, beginning in Antwerp on Saturday, is the first step in the long journey towards regaining Olympic glory.
"Our main goal in the immediate future is to qualify for the 2008 Olympics [Images] in Beijing. Our team has the talent and potential and if we perform to our ability, then anything is possible," Carvalho said on the eve of the six-nation event.
Also read: Indian hockey team faces stiff challenge
However, Carvalho reiterated that the focus presently is on doing well and winning the Champions Challenge.
"We need to take one step at a time, and so our focus now is fully on this tournament," Carvalho said in an exclusive interview.
A sense of quiet confidence pervades the Indian team and underlining the mood was Carvalho.
Having replaced Vasudevan Bhaskaran earlier this year in the wake of the disastrous 2006 World Cup campaign, Carvalho felt that his team is in good shape to take on the challenge in Antwerp.
"The 10-day training stint in Germany [Images] before we came here was extremely helpful," he said.
"We played four practice games against local clubs and won them all. That has put the players in good frame of mind. We made a few changes after the Azlan Shah tournament and I feel the team is much stronger now than we were in Ipoh."
The eight-nation Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, was the first international outing for India and Carvalho.
A bronze medal behind Australia and Malaysia signaled a revival in fortunes for Indian hockey that was written off after the World Cup.
Though the 1-0 semi-final defeat to a young and inexperienced Malaysia in Ipoh still rankles, Carvalho confessed that the overall performance of the team did exceed his expectations.
"Honestly, I was rather unsure how things would pan out in Ipoh. After all, it was my first tournament as the Indian coach and so it was for the young team.
"But now, I am feeling far more confident, especially after the way we played in the practice games in Germany earlier this month," he said.
The Indians won all the four matches with score lines of 6-0, 6-2, 4-2 and 7-2. The last practice game was played at the Warsteiner Hockey Park in Monchengladbach, the scene of India's 11th place finish at the 2006 World Cup.
"Yes, these matches were against club sides, but it gave our youngsters a lot of exposure in terms of playing against European style of play," the coach said.
"Though we won all the matches comfortably, the going was not easy. Some of the games were played in rain and cold weather conditions.
"We also had to break through tight defences and also play at a good pace right through."
The practice games also helped India to experiment with various permutations and combinations besides fine-tuning strategies, he said.
"We worked out some combinations as I wanted to evaluate not just the fitness of the players, but also their individual form and ability.
"We also had a few sessions exclusively devoted for penalty-corner conversions and, in this context, I am happy that Sandeep Singh is back in the team," Carvalho said.
Sandeep, the drag-flick expert, did not make it to the World Cup last year following injury in a freak shooting accident, a few days before the team's departure to Germany.
Also back in the side is former captain and experienced full-back Dilip Tirkey, whom Carvalho feels has a crucial role to play along with goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza.
"Dilip has the ability, class and experience to hold our deep defence together. And with Sandeep and William Xalco also available, I feel a lot more confident at the back now than I did in Ipoh. I have that many more options now," he said.
D'Souza missed the Azlan Shah tournament and his inclusion at the expense of Bharat Chhetri, has injected experience in India's deep defence, the coach said.
Carvalho singled out forward Damandeep Singh as among the most improved players, besides midfielder Sardar Singh and striker Bharat Chhikara.
"The tour of Germany has helped Damandeep to develop into a good player. He still has a lot of potential to improve further and I am sure he will. He is not afraid to use his physique and he could emerge as one of our key players.
"Likewise, two other youngsters, Sardar and Bharat have shown plenty of improvement. I would say the same about forward Roshan Minz," he said.
Overall, Carvalho felt that the core of the team is more or less settled.
"Now, the more we play, especially European and Australian teams, the better it would be for the side," he signed off.