India senses huge win

India looks to winning the Champions Challenge tournament and clinch a place in the 2002 Champions Trophy.

updated: February 25, 2007 08:37 IST
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Kuala Lumpur:

Struggling in the earlier stages and then winning the last two matches to enter the Champions Challenge hockey final, favourites India would be looking to take that vital step and win the tournament and clinch a place in the 2002 Champions Trophy. If India wins, it would be their first major tournament victory after the 1998 Asian Games gold medal. Of course, India, only recently also won the junior World Cup. For South Africa, it has been an impressive run. After having qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and then withdrawing, this tournament was an invitation from the International Hockey Federation and it says a lot about their team that they are in the final, only a step away from being in the top six in the world. Both coaches are wary of predicting the final, yet, in so many ways, both echo the same feelings. "If we are able to convert our chances, then I don't see India losing," says coach Cedric D'Souza. His counterpart, Wendell Domingo, says if they are able to hold off India in the early stages, then they can go ahead and make a match of it. Ultimately, it will come down to the Indian forward-line and how and what they do with the chances they create in the South African circle. Baljit Dhillon has been playing a lot in the midfield and thus unable to enter the striking circle. So that leaves India with the talents of junior World Cup star Deepak Thakur, Gagan Ajit Singh, Prabhjot Singh and veteran striker Dhanraj Pillay. Dhanraj has been in sparkling form but has not played as central striker yet or even as a freewheeling forward, a role he relishes. The Indians would do well to let him play to his liking as he can still drag away half the opposition defence to his side leaving gaps for others to exploit. D'Souza, however, says it is not to stifle Dhanraj that they play him as an outside right but more to keep the rival defences in check. "But against South Africa, we will play according to the situation and see how each player fits in". The Indian midfield has been off-colour in this tourney. Thirumalvalvan, Sukhbir Singh Gill, Vikram Pillay and Bipin Fernandez just haven't been able to stamp their authority thus, forcing Baljit Dhillon to fall back and become play-maker, which reduces his effectiveness upfront. And, with India's two top defenders, Dilip Tirkey and Dinesh Nayak not playing this tournament, the midfield too has to fall back and help the defence where Jugraj Singh and Kanwalpreet Singh sometimes out of sheer in-experience make basic errors. (PTI)