Hockey players upbeat about team's prospects

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Urging the critics not to write them off, top Indian hockey players today said that the present team was the "best-ever side in 20 years".

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:06 IST
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Urging the critics not to write them off, top Indian hockey players today said that the present team was the "best-ever side in 20 years" and had the potential to win a medal in the Athens Olympics. The players, attending a fitness camp here, pleaded not to read too much into the recent performances saying the team was preserving its best for mega event, to be held in August this year. "Hockey has the best chance of fetching India an Olympic medal. We know our abilities and no doubt we have the wherewithal to win a medal," forward Gagan Ajit Singh said today. Bridging gaps Captain Dilip Tirkey was equally upbeat about India's chances but said the team needed to bridge a few gaps to win the medal that has eluded the country in the last five Olympics. India's last medal, a gold, came in the boycott-marred Moscow Olympics in 1980. Since then the team has been struggling to re-establish itself as a force to reckon with at the Games, finishing ninth, eighth and seventh in the last three editions. "We were unlucky to miss the semifinal berths in last three Games. But this time we are determined. There will be no repeat of the mistakes that we made on previous occasions," Tirkey said. "But we need to be a little more consistent. We always play well against tough opponents but fail to carry that momentum against weaker ones. So may be our mental approach needs to be a little different." 'Different approach' This "mental approach" seems to be bothering the side for quite some time now. On several occasions complacency of the players has witnessed a complete turn-around in the team's fate in crucial matches. To do away with this, the team management is leaving no stone unturned at the camp. "Besides following a strict fitness regime, we are doing meditation. This will certainly help us in becoming mentally tougher and maintaining our cool in crunch situations," said Tirkey. The players have also realised that winning penalty corners is important for team's success at the Athens Olympics. They also admit that their eagerness to score on every opportunity is forcing them to make some glaring mistakes. "We always try too hard to score goals and sound the board every time we enter the circle. This has resulted in a number of missed opportunities. This is also the reason why we are not earning too many penalty corners," Gagan Ajit said. "We are working on this and trying to win as much penalty corners as possible." Tough time This is also going to help the team as scoring goals from penalty corners will be easier after the introduction of the new rules, coming into effect from June one. And probably, no one knows it better than goalkeeper Chauhan. "It will completely expose the goalkeepers. Penalty corners would be like strokes as it would be extremely difficult for the chargers to check the ball with just the stick. It's going to be a difficult time for keepers," Chauhan said. Optimistic note Despite the hiccups, there is every reason to believe that India can do well in the Olympics as the side has an awesome combination of players and can beat any team in the world on their day, he said. "We had teams earlier which were quite good. But in the last 20 years or so this is the best combination we have got," the keeper said. "We would be going to Athens with a 16-member team and I am sure with the kind of players we have, the team management would not have the slightest hesitation in playing any player from the squad. Prabhjot Singh said, "our main aim is to qualify for the semifinals and after that it's all a matter of chance. But to reach the last four, we would have to beat at least one of the tougher sides in the group – Australia or Holland. "We are confident that we can beat Holland as we have had some close matches against them. Australia would be tough but we are keeping our fingers crossed," he added. (PTI)

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