Tough contests await India

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> A revamped India renew their bid to get back into the elite bracket of world hockey when they begin their campaign in the Champions Challenge on Saturday.

Updated: June 23, 2007 13:06 IST
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Antwerp, Belgium:

A revamped India renew their bid to get back into the elite bracket of world hockey when they begin their campaign in the six-nation FIH Champions Challenge tournament with a game against New Zealand in Antwerp, Belgium on Saturday.

Coach Joaquim Carvalho expressed confidence that his wards would deliver the goods even if some tough contests were on the card.

"The stakes are obviously high as this tournament gives us a chance to qualify for the 2008 Champions Trophy and also a favourable draw for the Olympic qualifying tournament next

"It is going to be a tough competition, but I am confident of a strong showing here," the Indian coach said after the team's arrival here on Thursday night following a 10-day
training sojourn in Germany.

Also at stake are valuable FIH ranking points. India, winners of the inaugural Champions Challenge tournament in 2001, are currently ranked eighth with 1,293 points, behind
Argentina (7th, 1,325) and followed by England (9th, 1,249), New Zealand (10th, 1,220), Japan (12th, 825) and Belgium (13th, 801).

"There is plenty to gain by doing well in this tournament that I feel is the most significant outing for us. We need to get back into the top six as that will open up doors of opportunity to compete against the best in the world and that is the best way forward," Carvalho said.

Big changes

After the World Cup debacle last year when India sank to 11th among 12 teams in Mochengladbach, Germany, the team underwent a wholesale change, beginning with coach Vasudevan Baskaran whom Carvalho replaced.

A third place at the eight-nation Azlan Shah Cup meet raised hopes of a revival for India and Carvalho said the team was keen to continue with its fine form.

"The bronze in Malaysia was certainly a big boost for the team and hopefully we will be able to sustain the momentum by finishing at the top here," he said.

However, the Indians cannot expect an easy run. Four of the five teams they face New Zealand, England, Argentina and Japan - finished ahead of India at the 2006 World Cup. Only
hosts Belgium are the lowest ranked team in the fray.

Carvalho pointed out that the teams at the Champions Challenge would be more motivated and at full strength unlike in the Azlan Shah competition where all the sides opted to
field younger players.

Carvalho said despite being the most skillful outfit, his team had to give its best against some power-packed sides in the tournament.

"Every game is important for us and hopefully, our players will rise to the occasion. There will be no easy outings for sure. We may be more skillful than the others, but it will take much more than that to get past teams like England, New Zealand and Argentina.

"We will be up against different styles of play and highly motivated opposition that will be as keen as us to make it to Champions Trophy," he said.

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