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Carvalho warns against qualifying let-up
N.Ananthanarayanan | February 12, 2008 15:09 IST
Eight-times champions India, teetering on the verge of missing the Olympics [Images] for the first time, cannot leave anything to chance in a crunch qualifying tournament next month, according to coach Joaquim Carvalho.
India must win a six-nation contest in Santiago from March 1-9 and should not take any of their opponents lightly, Carvalho said.
"It is a huge task ahead," he said over telephone from the team's training base in Perth, Australia.
"Britain are expected to be the toughest opponents but you never know who is going to create the upset," he said.
In Auckland on Sunday, New Zealand [Images] beat Argentina 3-2 in extra-time to finish top in the first of three qualifying events, where only the winners earn Olympic berths.
Austria, Bangladesh, Mexico, India, hosts Chile and 1988 Olympic champions Britain will contest the next qualifying tournament in Santiago.
India have slumped in the global game since winning their last Olympic title in Moscow [Images] in 1980, against a field depleted by a United States-led boycott.
Hockey is still rated as India's national game, despite cricket's immense popularity.
Failure to qualify would be a huge embarrassment for a sport already downgraded and out of favour with the government, which has drastically reduced its funding for hockey.
Under Carvalho, India retained the Asia Cup in September, beating Asian Games champions South Korea 7-2 in the final. Last month, they won a home series against European championship bronze medallists Belgium 3-1.
"We're leaving nothing to chance," he said. "The boys are quite confident. These matches, having played against Belgium and now against China, hopefully it will hold us in good stead."
He said fitness and penalty-corner skills have improved.
In Australia, India beat Asian Games runners-up China 3-1 and 4-1 in friendlies where penalty-corner expert V R Raghunath was in impressive form.
"We're focusing on the core group here," Carvalho said. "In penalty-corners we're doing well, Raghunath has scored four goals in four matches.
"It's almost 40 degrees Celsius here, but the boys are playing well.
India have appointed former Australia captain Ric Charlesworth, a senior International Hockey Federation (FIH) coach, as an adviser to the team.
They were persuaded to hire Charlesworth by the FIH, which is keen to revamp the game in its traditional base.
Carvalho felt training abroad would make a difference.
"Back home you get the same teams which are not stronger than you," he said. "They play the same system, you know each and every player."
The Beijing [Images] Olympics run from August 8-24.