Indian eves take on Russia in Olympic qualifier

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> India will face Russia in Saturday's contest, but the hosts are well prepared and well prepared and well acquainted with local conditions.

Updated: May 01, 2008 13:59 IST
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Under the tutelage of a one month-old coach and with a rare combination of youth and
experience, the Indian women's hockey team depicts a picture akin to 'Chak De! India' as they begin their quest for an Olympic berth by taking on hosts Russia on Saturday.

The Indian girls would be cautious in their approach as the men's team's debacle in Chile and the resultant backlash will be fresh in their minds.

The margin for error is very little as only the winner of the six-team competition will qualify for the Beijing Games. The USA, Netherlands Antilles, Belgium, Russia, France are the other sides in fray.

Coach M K Kaushik, who earlier had been at the helm of affairs of the women's team, recently took over the reigns once again as the side entered the final phase of their

But as the Olympic qualifier is all set to start on Saturday, Kaushik appears to be in control and is confident of his girls' good showing.

Minor injury worries to two key players are there but the girls are ready to achieve what the men's team could not do in Santiago.

"They are ready for the task, fully fit," Kaushik said after learning that injuries sustained by forward Surinder Kaur and centre-half Asunta Lakra during the practice sessions
were only minor in nature.

Apart from the rivals, the bone-chilling cold weather and bouncy turf will be the two major challenges for the Indian side, which is normally not used to such playing conditions.

"A couple of days ago, the wind was so chill our players could not even hold the stick," Kaushik remembered.

About the pitch at the picturesque Field Hockey Centre, he said, "it is bouncy and at places the turf has not settled properly. You can well notice ripple like projections. They
are very mild but will affect ball control."

India might be facing the 21st-ranked Russia in Saturday's contest, but the hosts have the ability to put up a tough fight as they are well prepared and well acquainted with the local conditions.

In the last two months, led by Olga Shentsova, Russia visited five countries to get the competitive edge. In South Africa in February, apart from a four-nation tournament, they
played two Test matches.

In the last week of March, Russia had engagements against top club teams of Netherlands in Amsterdam. It also defeated Dutch's under-21 team during the brief stay of five days.

Their next engagement against the United Kingdom was equally hectic with a series of matches against Scotland and Wales.

Home side coach Apelganets Valentina cautioned their rivals that his team is no easy push-over.

"We respect other teams, they will also respect us as we are not an also-ran side after preparing so hard for the last six months," he said.

Exposure-wise, India, led by Mamta Kharab, had only one visit to Kuwait where they played two friendly ties against Holland and Azerbaijan.

But Kaushik said the team, comprising a 14-year-old Rani Devi as well as a 33-year-old Pritam Siwach, had the potential to rise up to the expectation.

"The team is gelling well. It is a mix of youth and experience. We selected the players on form, not on any other criteria," he said.

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