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India eager to end on a high

CHAMPIONS TROPHY

Cologne, Sept. 7 (PTI): India would be looking to cap their impressive run in the Champions Trophy hockey tournament with yet another victory over arch-rivals Pakistan when the two play for the bronze medal on Sunday.

Nobody would have predicted such a wonderful outing from India after a disastrous 2002 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

But they improved remarkably and registered a couple of fine victories over Pakistan and Australia to finish third after the league matches with two wins, two defeats and a draw.

India lost 2-4 to Korea in the last league match, but coach Rajinder Singh said: “I think the boys have improved with every match. But there is still a lot to achieve. There are areas where we need to drastically improve which would then lead to consistency in a tournament.”

India started here with a 3-3 draw with Olympic champions Holland and then lost a very close match 2-3 to Germany. They outplayed both Australia and Pakistan with identical 3-2 margins before going down to Korea in an inconsequential match. “Consistency is what we were looking for as our primary objective,” said manager Aslam Sher Khan.

India would like to repeat the feat they had in the Marshalls tournament in Nairobi in 1998 where they beat Pakistan twice, first in the league encounter and then in the final to take the title.

In Sunday’s match, the focus will be on Pakistan’s penalty corner specialist Sohail Abbas, apart from Indian goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan and mercurial forward Dhanraj Pillay, who is always a threat to any opposition. Incidentally, it was India’s frontline — comprising Pillay, Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh and Gagan Ajit Singh — which played a crucial role in the last match against Pakistan.

“We always need to score three-four goals to make the issue safe,” says Khan. “And that’s how we need to do it. One can’t keep conceding and hope to equalise always. As a team we need to ensure that the frontline delivers the goods and the defence stands up and gives the support.”

Pakistan coach Tahir Zaman also picked out the Indian forwards as a threat to his team.

In the title-fight, hosts Germany would be going all out to revenge their 2-5 loss to Holland in the last league match on Friday.

A big score-line should not be expected from either team as both would be ultra-defensive, not giving much space. For the Dutch, it is their flair upfront which will again play a decisive role along with penalty corner aces Bram Lomans and Taeke Taekema who have been in splendid form right through the tournament.

The battle for the 5th-6th play-off will also be intense as the loser will go out of the 2003 Champions Trophy making way for Argentina who finished sixth in the 2002 World Cup.

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