India, Australia favourites in hockey tournament

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> The stage is set for the prestigious Indira Gandhi Gold Cup hockey tournament to kick off on Saturday.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:49 IST
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New Delhi:

The stage is set for the prestigious Indira Gandhi Gold Cup hockey tournament to kick off on Saturday. Commonwealth gold medallists India and three-time Olympic champions Australia quietly optimistic of their chances in the prestigious five-nation meet. Also taking part in the event, which is into its seventh edition, are New Zealand, Italy and Malaysia. Russia pulled off at the last moment and the organisers were unable to rope in a replacement at such a short notice. Testing times For India, New Zealand and Australia, the event, being hosted after a gap of nearly nine years, will give an opportunity to test each other before the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne early next year. Indian captain Helen Mary said the team would try to do its best and shrug off the tag of being 'inconsistent' with a top place finish before the home crowds. "We will rely on our traditional attacking style with five forwards and three midfielders," the veteran goalkeeper said at a pre-match press conference at the National Stadium. Australian captain Nikkie Hudson said slipping down to the fourth in world rankings after being ranked on top following their fifth-place finish in Athens Olympics had been a "humbling experience" for the team, which will now aim at getting its act together. "We are here to play quality opposition especially New Zealand and India whom we meet in the Commonwealth Games. However, any of the teams is capable of pulling off a surprise," Hudson said. The hot and humid conditions will be a problem, said the veteran, but hoped the players would be able to dish out some quality hockey. "It is very hot, we are trying to get used to it. I hope we will learn something from each game," said the ace striker. Under strength squad Australia, coached by Frank Murray, may not be at their full strength but they do have three gold medallists from the Athens Games in their ranks besides four more Olympians, making them a formidable opposition. New Zealand, ranked sixth in the world, are also front-runners for the top honours. Veteran midfielder Suzie Muirhead, who has 217 internationals under her belt, is leading the 'Blacksticks' who had defeated India 2-0 in a four-Test rubber last year. "This tournament is an important build up for the Commonwealth Games. We are a young side, the average age of our squad is 22. We will play fast, attacking hockey and hopefully finish among the top," said Muirhead. The opening match tomorrow will pit India against Malaysia, who have not been able to make much of an impact in the international arena. (PTI)

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