Confident India look to start with a win

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> India would be looking to consolidate its position in the 10th World Cup beginning February 24 with a blistering start against Pool B minnows Japan.

Updated: February 25, 2007 09:27 IST
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Kuala Lumpur:

India would be looking to consolidate their position in the 10th Hockey World Cup beginning here tomorrow with a blistering start against Pool B minnows - Japan. Coming into this World Cup with the Junior World Cup and Champions Challenge titles under their belt, India, as most of the coaches say, are potential semi-finalists. Meanwhile, with a frontline that boasts of Dhanraj Pillay, Junior World Cup stars Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur, Bipin Fernandez, Arjun Hallapa and of course captain Baljit Singh Dhillon, it would be difficult for the Japanese to hold them back. Unless, of course, the Indians choke in the striking circle. But as coach Cedric D'Souza says that will not happen. "We have trained for this tournament and we are waiting for the moment. I don't see the team choking even under pressure," he said. Japan, however, refuse to predict results. But at the same time, manager Toichi Nagai feels they would need a miracle to go past India. "Look at their forwards and look at their flair," he said. "We can't even think of having the same skills. But, yes, we will make a match of it. We have never won against them in a World Cup or even internationally, but we have had some close games in the past. And we hope our defence will restrict them". What Nagai also feels but doesn't say is that Japan are quite happy with the tag of minnows for the World Cup as they feel this would lead their opponents into a lull of complacency. And they hope they could use this to their advantage when they take on India under lights at pitch 2 at the Bukit Jalil stadium. Even D'Souza, with all his preparation, knows the opener would be tough. They want to win by a big margin but that doesn't mean they would take the Japanese lightly. "In the World Cup qualifier in Edinburgh, they gave us a heart-attack by drawing with us in a crucial encounter. Even in the match for fifth-sixth place, they gave us a tough fight and we barely managed to squeeze through," recalled D'Souza. If Japan wants a great start to their World Cup campaign, then they need to play down the middle, using their flanks to stretch the Indian defence. They have caused problems earlier with that strategy, as sometimes the Indian defence led by Dilip Tirkey wanders up, leaving gaps at the back. Japan's speed on the counter-attack is tremendous and it's there that they could upset the Indian applecart. Of course, there is Nahiko Tobita, who will always be a menace in the penalty corner department. Looking at Cedric's tactics and strategy that he employed in the training games with South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina, he would definitely start with Baljit Dhillon, Prabhjot Singh, Dhanraj Pillay and Deepak Thakur upfront. Then, looking at the match situation, he will probably pull back Pillay and replace him with Daljit Dhillon. Baljit, however, would be used as a centre-forward and also as an attacking midfielder. Captain Dhillon has the ability to use the space created by the forwards to provide some defence splitting passes. And for men like Pillay, Thakur and Prabhjot Singh, these would be the perfect setting for striking in goals. Even the midfield has an attacking stance. If Daljit is not played upfront, D'Souza would use him as central-midfielder, with Saini attacking from the flanks to send Pillay through. Thirumal would be the schemer and also the man who falls back. The defence seems absolutely sound, with Dilip Tirkey, Jugraj Singh, Lazarus Barla all experienced and raring to go. (PTI)

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