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Indian coach more realistic than optimistic

By Rakesh Rao

NEW DELHI, JAN. 31. The oft-repeated "feel good'' factor is in the air. But the breeze of optimism has not swept through the dormitories of the Nehru Stadium residential wing.

On the eve of the fifth Asia Cup women's hockey tournament, the members of the Indian team are feeling bad that unlike the seven overseas teams, they are not being offered five-star comfort.

The Indian Women's Hockey Federation has provided hotel accommodation to several Indian officials but not the players.

The team obviously feels let down by the federation but they see no point in complaining.

It is in this state of mind that India opens its campaign against Malaysia at the National Stadium on Sunday. India is expected to win with ease against the Malaysians, coached by C.R. Kumar, a one-time deputy to former national coach Cedric D'Souza.

Coach M.K. Kaushik sounded more realistic than optimistic about India's prospects. During the team's practice session on Saturday evening, Kaushik said, ``we should be happy to win the bronze. That is, if we meet Japan, and not Korea, in the match for the third place.''

Captain Surajlata Waikhom Devi, one of the survivors from the team which lost the final to Korea in the previous edition at the same venue in 1999, knows the expectations from the team are quite high, but she knows the strength of the team only too well.

"This team is quite different from the one that won the Commonwealth gold in Manchester (in 2002). Whether it is the defence or the midfield, we are still short of achieving perfection. The forward line looks fine. Still, we have to put it all together to win the big matches,'' said Surajlata.

Even after being crowned as the Commonwealth Games champion, the Indian players have not played much since then. Surprisingly, India played just one overseas competition, in Russia, and then in the Afro-Asian Games at home during 2003.

No doubt, China is the team to beat. Third in the World Cup 2002, China has come here without four of its senior players. According to Manager Hai Xian, these players were ``injured'' and missed this trip. Under coach Yang Hongbing, this Chinese team has trained very hard after being out of training for nearly a month. "Obviously, we are keen to book a berth for the next World Cup,'' said Hai Xuan.

From the other group, it is futile to look beyond Korea and Japan in search of the semifinalists. Sri Lanka and Singapore are going to prove be good practice rivals for these teams.

It is anybody's guess that China, India, Korea and Japan will make the semifinals. In the league phase, most matches are going to throw up expected results. As far as India is concerned, a place in the medal-bracket should be reason enough to feel good.

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