India face uphill task in hockey

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> India launch their quest for an Olympic medal in men's hockey with a Group 'B' match against the defending champions Netherlands.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:08 IST
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India launch their quest for an Olympic medal in men's hockey with a Group 'B' match against the defending champions Netherlands here tomorrow, fully aware that a sloppy show in the very first outing could badly dent the confidence of a team haunted by a string of dismal shows in recent times. Although the Indians face a daunting task to put it across their fancied opponents, aiming to win the coveted gold medal for a third successive, the team will be keen to put up a spirited show which could hold them in good stead in the subsequent pool matches. The team's build up for the mega event has hardly been inspiring but they are still considered a dangerous side which has the capability of springing a surprise though it remains to be seen if they can really come good when it matters most. Clearly, the Indians have their tasks cut out and although they will step onto the turf at the Helliniko Sports Complex believing that they can beat the Dutch, they would also be conscious of the fact that keeping the margin of defeat low would also play an important part if they hoped to secure a berth in the semi-finals. The injury to young Sandeep Singh, the lone drag flicker in the team, a few days back in Germany, has been a cause of corncern for the team think tank. Though Sandeep has recovered sufficiently from his hand injury to be on the bench for the crucial match tomorrow his effectiveness could be greatly reduced. The penalty corner conversions has been the weak link for the team and it was therefore quite understandable that Sandeep's injury has been giving the coaching staff something to worry about. "Sandeep has recovered from the injury. He will be there in the starting list tomorrow," Indian Hockey Federation secretary K Jothikumaran said. India's track record against the Dutch in recent times has hardly been encouraging and new coach Gerhard Rach will have to put a new strategy in place to counter their speedy opponents who have been in top form ever since for Australian star Terry Walsh took over the coaching reins. The two teams have played each other five times this year - including the Test series in Hyderabad in February - with India having failed to win even one game. They were thrashed 5-2 in the last encounter in the four-nation tournament in Amstelveen. The Indians had an extensive tune-up for the mega event which included a special training programme in the USA and Germany and it is now left to the players to deliver the goods in the Olympics where India reigned supreme from 1924-64, a period which brought as many as seven gold medals for the country. They have a new coaching panel with Oliver Kurtz of Germany and Jagbir Singh assisting Rach after Rajinder Singh was unceremoniously sacked barely a few weeks before the Olympics. Coach Rach has promised to bring back the glorious days of Indian hockey and has not changed the natural style of the Indians. (PTI)

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