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India open campaign against Egypt

October 22, 2003 20:52 IST

Despite missing the services of three key players, including mercurial striker Dhanraj Pillay, India should have little difficulty in keep their juggernaut rolling when they begin their Afro-Asian Games hockey campaign with a match against Egypt in Hyderabad on Thursday.

But though upbeat after their maiden Asia Cup title triumph in Kuala Lumpur last month, India, drawn in Pool 'B', will not take their African opponents lightly as tomorrow's match will set the tone for the matches ahead against top sides including arch-rivals Pakistan.

In the women's section, India start their campaign against South Africa after the organizers made wholesome changes to the schedule following last moment withdrawal of some countries.

Though all the other six teams in fray start their campaign tomorrow, with Pakistan playing against Nigeria, who replaced Zimbabwe at the last moment, all eyes will be fixed on the India-Egypt match which the hosts are expected to win rather easily.

"We are not taking Egypt lightly because they are a up-and-upcoming side. They are hosting at least two international meets every year and have fair bit of exposure at the highest

level," India's goalkeeping coach Subbaiah said on Wednesday afternoon after the team's practice session at the Gachibowli stadium.

In the absence of the seven players who were part of the team that won the Asia Cup, Subbaiah said the team management is banking on the experience of captain Dilip Tirkey and the youngsters in the side to come up with a creditable performance.

"The team is quite confident and all are raring to go. We will no doubt come up with our best possible performance in the tournament.

"We can't say whether we will win the gold or silver, but we will leave no stone unturned and play our best," he said.

Tomorrow's other matches will see Pakistan starting as favourites against Nigeria while the Koreans are expected to steamroll African minnows Ghana, who have too little fire power to rattle their fancied opponents.

The Pakistanis, who arrived in Hyderabad amidst tight security in the wee hours of Wednesday, have been accommodated at the Indian School of Business near the Gachibowli stadium, where all the hockey teams are staying.

The 16-member Pakistan team is without ace penalty-corner specialist Sohail Abbas and a few senior players who have been rested by the Pakistan Hockey Federation keeping an eye on the upcoming major international meets including the Azlan Shah Cup in January and the Olympic qualifiers in March.

The day's other match will be between Malaysia and South Africa and it could provide some excitement since both the sides match each other.

As far as the Indian eves are concerned they could not have asked for a better start as they can cruise through to the semi-finals if they win at least a couple of their league matches.

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