October 17, 2001

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It's a huge relief: Rajinder Singh

Our Correspondent

Since Sunday, when India played their first match of the second round in the men's junior hockey World Cup, it was hard to get a smile on coach Rajinder Singh's face. After all, his team, after much promise in the first stage of the tournament which saw India score 15 goals -- the highest among all the 16 teams -- and concede just one in three matches, was held 2-2 by Argentina and then suffered a 1-2 loss to Australia.

But on Wednesday, you could see the soft-spoken former India player more than elated after his boys beat the Netherlands 4-3 to make it to the semi-finals of the tournament along with Argentina from Pool F.

"It's a huge relief," he said, after the Indians had staved off a huge fightback form the Dutch, who came back after being thrice in arrears.

"There were so many calculations yesterday... how we could make it to the semi-finals; this morning all those dreams came true," added Rajinder.

He said his boys converted the chances that came their way, unlike in the matches against Argentina and Australia and that made the difference.

''I had been saying that we need to convert our chances. I said if we do that we can beat any team. Today my boys did just that and proved me right,'' he said.

Reflecting on what went through his mind after Holland came back thrice and then tied the score 3-3 in the 49th minute, Rajinder said: "I knew it was anybody's game. I knew that one mistake from either side would have resulted in a goal and sealed the match. It was good that we got that deciding goal and then held on."

He was all praise for the boys, saying they came up with their best and delivered the goods when it mattered.

Rajinder felt the two early goals was just the tonic his boys needed in a crunch match like this.

"I think the two goals in first 10 minutes gave us the edge. Though they equalised later, they knew we were capable of taking the match away from them."

The Netherlands' coach Floris Evers complimented the Indians for their fine display, adding: "It's not easy to fight back three times."

But the happiest man was none other than Argentina's coach, Alex Verga. For the first time an Argentina men's team had made it to the semi-finals of a major world hockey event. In fact, Argentina's best in the junior World Cup is a fifth placing, it achieved in 1989 and 1993. In the last edition they finished sixth behind Pakistan.

"I am a happy man," he declared after the 2-1 victory over Australia, which sealed them a place in the semi-finals.

He went one to praise the performance of the Australian team. "It is to the Australians' credit that they were able to put us under so much pressure. It was a very good, tough game and Australia made it very difficult for us to get space," he said.

Australian coach Colin Batch said his team was very disappointed with the result.

"We played very well in the second half; we played the way we needed to against Argentina. Our transfer in the midfield was also good, but our finishing and penalty-corner execution were not good enough as has been the case throughout the tournament," Batch said.

Complete Coverage: 7th Junior Men's World Cup 2001

Mail Sports Editor