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 February 08, 2002 | 1430 IST
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Hockey team confident
of a good showing

High on confidence after its recent successes, the Indian hockey team leaves on Friday night for the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur hoping to repeat its only triumph in the competition in 1975, in the same city.

Following the triumphs in the Junior World Cup and Champions Challenge expectations are indeed high, and there is no doubt that the 22-member squad is well prepared to stake its calim to the title.

The squad, which dispersed from a training camp in Chennai last week, will travel to Ipoh, where they will have a two-week camp and  train on a surface similar to the one the February 24-March 9 tournament will be played on at the Bukit Jalil stadium.

Coach Cedric D'Souza was not even willing to talk about team's weaknesses. "With the World Cup so close, we should not be talking about grey areas," he said.

"We have worked very hard on every aspect we thought was a grey area and now we have to play according to our strength," D'Souza told reporters, after the players had a work-out at the National stadium in Delhi on Friday morning.

A final squad of 18 would be picked after the Ipoh camp. The team will also play a practice match with New Zealand.

D'Souza said taking 22 players to the camp, which was originally scheduled to be held at Chennai but shifted to Ipoh to enable the players acclimatise themselves to conditions there, would allow him to simulate actual match situations by splitting the squad into two sides of 11 members each.

"We can have full-fledged 11 versus 11 matches so that we don't have to depend on other teams for practice games," he said, while disagreeing that India should have arranged more practice matches with other teams.

"We need to be fresh for the big tournament. We have a very hard programme, with 13 matches in nine days. We will have to conserve our energies for them. The camp would mainly concentrate on skill specific training," he said, adding that it would be very difficult for him to select the final 18 from the 22.

"In the Champions Challenge (last year), I had so many problems in reducing the 18-member team to 16. Now I have to pull my hair out in deciding to leave out four players. They all are playing so well," he said.

Star striker Dhanraj Pillay said if the team continues to play the way it has been playing since last year there is no reason why it cannot repeat the performance of 1975.

 "Personally, I feel, we should reach the semi-finals, at least," he said.

Skipper Baljit Dhillon, while expressing happiness with the composition of the team, too was optimistic of the team making the semi-finals.

"Most of the players have already had a good feel of the conditions of Kuala Lumpur, where we clinched the maiden FIH Champion Callenge title recently," he said.

He was of the view that most of the junior players are not greenhorns any more.

"The likes of Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur and Devesh Chauhan have already played in the Olympics. Full back Jugraj Singh is an up and coming and fast-improving penalty-corner conversion exponent and was the second highest scorer after Deepak Thakur in the Hobart Junior World Cup," he said.

He admitted that leading the country in the World Cup is a great honour but added that he is not under any pressure.

Asked whether he felt Pool "B", in which India is placed, is the weaker of the two pools, Dhillon said: "All teams that have qualified for the World Cup are tough; no team can be taken lightly. At this level of competition one can understimate the rival at its own peril."

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