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India confident of extending good run
Anand Philar
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May 10, 2007 15:04 IST

Determined to continue their brilliant run in the eight-nation Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament, India take on hosts Malaysia in the semi-finals with new-found confidence on Friday.

The young Indian team, led by a new captain and coach, has thus far produced more then what was expected of them, but the semi-finals would be altogether a different ball game and it remains to be seen how they soak up the pressure of the high-intensity match.

India had won a bronze in the last edition of the championship, showing signs of revival for the game in the country, before touching new low, including the disaster in Asian Games from where it returned empty-handed for the first time after finishing fifth.

The victory over Argentina on Wednesday, however, has boosted the team's morale, but coach Joaquim Carvalho believes his wards have a real challenge on Friday.

"Last night's win against Argentina was a huge boost for the team and we will be going into the semis against Malaysia with a great deal of confidence, with the hope of giving another strong performance," Carvalho said on Thursday.

In the other semi-final, Olympic champions Australia, who showed ominous form while routing China, are scheduled to meet Asian Games gold medallists Korea, who ran into good form while ousting Pakistan 4-2 in their concluding league fixture.

The Indians provided a few moments of magic when they outplayed Argentina 2-0 in a must-win game, getting late goals from Bharat Chhikara and Tushar Khandekar.

Carvalho, however, preferred to play it down.

"True, we played well and the players are settling down as a combination. But, then, we have to remember that all the teams participating in this tournament are young and in the process of rebuilding. Also, Argentina are outside the top six in the world. So, we should not get carried away by our performance, but work harder to improve further," he said.

"I will be happy if we play as well or preferably better, against teams such as Spain, Holland and Germany. That would be a good index to measure the team. After all, one swallow does not make a summer," he remarked.

Asked about the semi-final game, Carvalho felt that it would be a much different game than the two practice matches they had played in Kuala Lumpur last week, when India lost to Malaysia 1-0 and drew 1-1.

"It would be a different ball game tomorrow. It is a semi-final of a tournament and so the pressure will be more on both teams. As for India, I would say that we are very confident. After all, we played well against Australia and were unlucky to lose and then won two pressure games against China (5-4) and Argentina.

"I am happy that our midfield, that I thought would be our weak link, has developed well and is getting stronger with every match. Considering these factors, I am confident of a strong performance against the Malaysians," the coach said.  

The key to India's success would be the forward line that showed rare sharpness and speed against Argentina. But as Carvalho agreed, the worrying factor is the inability to convert chances into goals, something which was clearly evident in the match against Australia.

"Of course, at this level, you simply cannot afford to miss chances, but we are definitely working on this aspect of our game," Carvalho said.

The Malaysians too have also fielded a fairly young and inexperienced side in their bid to get out of the cellar.

Coach Sarjit Singh said it would be a tough game against India, going by their performance against Argentina last night.

"The Indians are quick and very skillful, but we have enthusiastic youngsters who are willing to work hard to counter the opponents like we did against Korea while beating them 1-0. I expect a tough match and I am hopeful that my boys will be able to rise to the occasion," Sarjit said.

Looking at the confidence level of the Indian team that enjoyed an off-day today relaxing by the hotel pool, they look set to make the final of this tournament after a lapse of 12 years.

The other semi-final, between Australia and Korea, would be a study in contrasting styles of play and could well go either way.

The Aussies, without seven players who were part of the 2006 World Cup team that finished runners-up to Germany, had a slow start to their campaign here. They struggled to beat India and then went down 1-0 to Argentina before picking themselves up to rout China 7-2.

Friday's semi-finals (IST):

1535: Australia vs Korea

1735: India vs Malaysia

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