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 February 23, 2002 | 1200 IST
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Team is looking sharp and confident: D'Souza

With less than 24 hours left for the start of the 10th men's hockey World Cup, at the National stadium in Bukit Jalil, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, coaches of all the 16 participating teams preferred to hedge their bets on their chances in the tournament.

Cedric D'SouzaIndia coach Cedric D'Souza said, "Every team has looked sharp to me. So, I expect a super tournament," as he and his 18-member squad left for the Tun Razak stadium for a training session.

The Indian team, which has been in Malaysia for nearly a fortnight now, appeared to be in good trim, if one were to go by the coach's pronouncements.

''Touch wood, we have no injury problems. I think, we have done everything possible to get the boys in shape for the tournament. It is now up to them to perform on the pitch. The Indian Hockey Federation has been very supportive right through, and I must say that our team is looking sharp and confident," D'Souza said.

To substantiate his observation, the coach pointed to the results of a couple of training games that the Indians had played in Malaysia during the past week. They defeated New Zealand 2-0, through goals by Arjun Halappa and Prabhjot Singh, beat Argentina 1-0 over two 20-minute sessions and conceded a goal to South Africa in a 30 minute match

D'Souza said: ''Of course, you can't really attach much significance to all these scorelines, but the fact is that our team played pretty well, though against South Africa, it was a last minute decision to play them, and I wouldn't read too much in the goal that we let in."

He added: ''The least I can say at this stage is that the other teams are not looking at India as mere pushovers. They are looking at us with some respect."

The coach said he watched a few other friendly games involving defending champions the Netherlands, Germany, Pakistan and Australia.

"They all looked good and, hence, I say again that this World Cup should witness some really super hockey."

He made a particular mention of Pakistani star Shahbaz Ahmed, the wily inside-forward, and said the schemer still looks good despite his age.

"The rolling substitution is definitely an advantage for him as he can play in short burts. Yes, he is still a marvellous player," D'Souza added.

Meanwhile, the team heaved a collective sigh of relief to receive the kit, which reached the Malaysian capital only on Friday. The team management obviously sought to downplay the delay, but it would seem that last minute glitches have become synonymous with Indian hockey.

UNI

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