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A chance for India to make amends

LAHORE, DEC. 3. With a young team at its disposal, India would be keen to put behind the disappointments of Athens Olympics by coming up with an improved performance in the elite Champions Trophy hockey tournament starting here on Saturday.

A seventh-place finish at Athens must still be rankling hockey lovers who are desperate to see some inspiring show from the side in the six-nation tournament for which India qualified by default after Australia pulled out at the last moment on security grounds.

But if the performance of the inexperienced players in the eight-match series against Pakistan and the recent two-match series against Spain is any indication, India could equal its best ever performance in the six-nation elite event.

The team had finished third in 1982 at Amstelveen, Holland, and going by the potential of the side, which seems to be coping well with the demands at the highest level, a third place finish looks difficult but not improbable.

``This is a tough tournament with the top six teams battling for the honours. We have a young side but that is not going to keep us down. We are going to give our best shot,'' captain Dilip Tirkey said on the eve of India's match against Olympic semifinalists Spain.

Has to win opener

But to leave an impression, India must start in right earnest by winning its lung opener and collect maximum points as things could only grow stiffer for them as this round-robin tournament progresses.

India would face defending champions Holland on Sunday, Germany on Tuesday, arch-rivals Pakistan on Wednesday, New Zealand on Friday and their showing in these matches would be crucial to their chances.

Indian coach Gerhard Rach appeared quite confident of his boys' abilities and said they had come to the tournament with ``some very good preparation''.

``We know what our position is and have prepared really hard. I have given it my best try since I had almost four months to prepare for the event,'' Rach said.

Rach agreed that a win against Spain, which tied the two-match series with India 1-1 recently, would give a huge boost to the confidence of the players.

India would be relying heavily on their captain and senior most player Dilip Tirkey for inspiration when they take on the mighty teams in the competition.

Dilip Tirkey doing well

Dilip, who was bogged by an injury during the Test series against Spain, has so far led the team by example in the absence of several star players and he would be hoping his young guns to fire at the elite event.

The team's firepower would sorely depend on the scoring abilities of Arjun Halappa, Sandeep Michael, Tushar Khandekar, V.S. Vinay, Adam Sinclair and Vivek Gupta.

The goalkeeping position would be a toss-up between Adrian D'Souza, who has excelled under the bar since making his debut earlier this year, and veteran Devesh Chauhan, who showed glimpses of his class in the Test series against Spain after playing second fiddle to his junior for almost last six months.

Spain, which struggled in the Test series, would be keen to pull up their socks before it is too late.

But hogging the limelight would be defending champions Holland, which would complete a hat-trick of titles if it wins this edition.

Coach Terry Walsh, set to join his Australian team after this tournament, must be keen to sign off on a winning note.

Chandran named doctor

Meanwhile, the FIH has nominated Dr. P.S.M. Chandran, Director, Sports Medicine, Sports Authority of India, Delhi, as the official tournament doctor.This is the second posting for Dr. Chandran who had earlier been the tournament doctor for the Asian Games at Busan in 2002.

Dr. Chandran, who is the Secretary of the Medical Commission in the Asian Hockey Federation, is a specialist in sports medicine as also in doping control. His work in co-ordinating doping tests at the hockey event in the Busan Asian Games won the admiration of the FIH, and, this probably prompted the federation to nominate him for such an important event.

It must also be mentioned that Dr. Chandran has been associated with doping controls in more than 50 international events for the last 25 years. These include the Olympic Games at Los Angeles in 1984 and Athens in 2004.

The teams:

India: Adrian D'Souza, Devesh Chauhan, Dilip Tirkey, Sandeep Singh, Harpal Singh, William Xalco, Viren Rasquinha, Vikram Pillay, Ignace Tirkey, V S Vinay, Girish Pimpale, Prabodh Tirkey, Vivek Gupta, Adam Sinclair, Arjun Halappa, Sandeep Michael, Tushar Khandekar, Hari Prasad.

Spain: Berbardino Herrera, Santiago Freixa, Paul Quembda, Francisco Fabregas, Andreu Enrich, Juan Escarre, Alex Fabregas, Victor Sojo, Alberto Esteban, Ramon Alegre, Albert Sala, Rodrigo Garza, Sergi Enrique, Eduard Arbos, Francisco Cortes, David Alegre, Inacio Alborch, Juan Fernandez. — PTI

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