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The third place finish at the 16th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament was par for the course given the youth and inexperience of the Indian team, coach Joaquim Carvalho has said.
Carvalho replaced Vasudevan Baskaran barely a month prior to the tournament and the selectors opted for fresh faces in a bid to bolster India's fortunes that nosedived last year when they finished 11th among 12 teams in the World Cup and a poor fifth at the Doha Asian Games.
Carvalho declined to single out any other individual for special mention, but on persuasion, named forwards Bharat Chhikara and Roshan Minz and midfielders Sardara Singh and Gurbaj Singh as the players to watch.
The Indian coach's thoughts on the following:
Reaching the semifinals was a huge boost to our confidence considering that our primary objective was to provide exposure to our youngsters and also to evaluate them. Overall, I am quite satisfied with our performance in this tournament.
Our focus should be on improvement rather than just results, though in the ultimate analysis, they do matter.
However, at the moment, we are trying to develop a young and inexperienced side. We need to be patient for nothing can be achieved overnight.
The results reflected the team's potential. Of greater significance was the manner in which the boys played throughout. They sustained a good pace and played attacking hockey right through the tournament. So, fitness is not an issue, but if we could have a higher percentage of conversion at the finish, then I think, India can become a much stronger force.
We had our opportunities in virtually every game, especially in the semi-final against Malaysia, but somehow, our forwards simply failed to click inside the striking circle.
Though missing chances is part of the game, our forwards need to be sharper.
We might be looking at a couple of forwards, a midfielder and definitely a deep defender. There are still a few grey areas in the team, but then, it is part of the process of rebuilding our team for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
We have a few talented youngsters, but there is scope for improvement in terms of quicker ball rotation and release. A little more experience of top level hockey should see them develop into better players.
Harpal (Singh, full-back) was disappointing and Raghu (penalty corner specialist V Ramachandra Raghunath) still has to improve a lot in his tackling and movements though he is fast developing into a quality drag-flicker.
Thus, I had to disturb the half-line to plug these gaps at the back and it did affect the balance of the team, especially in the semi-final.
On changing goalkeeprs
(Bharat) Chetri made too many mistakes during our practice game with Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur prior to our arrival in Ipoh. He let in a silly goal and for the second half, I replaced him with Baljit (Singh), who went on to cement his place with solid performances.
Chetri is still good and I am happy that he had a good game against Korea (where he excelled with three brilliant saves).
The road ahead
I think, playing in Europe and against their teams will provide a better perspective on where we stand. After all, the Azlan Shah tournament was played in conditions familiar to us and against teams that were also in the process of re-building.
I have suggested a 10-day camp in Germany and probably a few practice games against local teams prior to the Champions Challenge. It will greatly benefit the players.
There is no shortage of talent in the country. Everything depends on how we nurture and guide these youngsters. I am extremely optimistic of Indian hockey's future.
Performance at Azlan Shah
- India go down fighting to Australia
- India wins the 'grudge match' against China 5-4
- India beat Argentina to enter semis
- India go down to Malaysia in semis
- India retains Azlan Shah bronze
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