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Rajinder sacked, 24 days before Olympics
- German Gerhard Rach takes over reins as boss

Duesseldorf: Rajinder Singh was Monday unceremoniously sacked as the chief coach of the national hockey team, barely three weeks ahead of the Athens Olympic Games, an apparent fall-out of the teamís disappointing showing in recent times.

Gerhard Rach of Germany, who was Rajinderís assistant since the last couple of months, has been appointed the chief coach with immediate effect, Indian Hockey Federation sources said here.

This also gives the final answer to the age-long question as to whether the national team should have a foreigner as its full time chief coach.

Rajinderís ouster was on the cards after the team failed to win even a single tournament since the Afro-Asian Games triumph late last year.

The decision to remove Rajinder was taken by IHF president K. P. S. Gill after consultation with the selectors and a panel of coaches.

While German expert Rach has been elevated, former German Olympian Oliver Kurtz and Jagbir Singh will continue to be assistant coaches.

The IHF also decided to appoint Hardeep Singh Dhillon as manager while retaining Saju Joseph as the trainer.

The IHFís decision came at a time when the team was in the last stage of its preparations for the Olympics.

The gameís governing body, which has a dubious record of chopping and changing coaches frequently, had, however, retained faith in Rajinder a few weeks back when it had reshuffled its coaching staff after a Netherlands meet.

Assistant coach Harendra Singh and goalkeeping coach M. R. Negi were axed following the teamís lacklustre performance in the Rabobank Trophy in Amsterdam earlier this month, but Rajinder was left untouched even though Jagbir was appointed as a coach.

The sources said although Rajinder was on the coaching panel, it was Rach who did all the strategies and planning during the DSD four-nation tournament which concluded here Sunday.

The vastly-improved performance of the team in the tournament, where they did not lose a single match, may have prompted the IHF to terminate the services of Rajinder, a former penalty corner specialist.

Rachís appointment comes a day after the IHF finalised its 16-member squad for the mega event which includes veterans Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Singh Dhillon, who were initially ignored for the camps.

Rajinder is expected to return home with the five probables who could not make it to the squad. The team will continue training in Germany before leaving for Athens early next month.

A former Olympian, Rajinderís credential as a coach came to the limelight when he guided the junior team to the World Cup title in 2001. Impressed with his achievement, the IHF took him as the chief coach of the national side the next year in place of Cedric DíSouza, who was sacked mid-way the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

Since his appointment, Rajinder had a roller-coaster ride, guiding the team to a few title wins in 2003 before running out of luck the next year.

A title win in Australia in June 2003, followed by the triumph in the Hamburg Masters prompted many to bill him as one of the best Indian coaches.

Rajinder, who followed an unconventional style of coaching, grew in stature as India recorded their first-ever win in the Asia Cup and the inaugural Afro-Asian Games in November last year. But that was all Rajinder could offer as the form of the side slumped considerably in the Olympic year.

A great challenge awaits Rach as he gets just three weeks to prepare the team for the Olympics, where India have been pitted in a tough pool A along with Holland, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand.

Pool B comprises Pakistan, Germany, Britain, Spain, Egypt and Korea.

Sahara boost for IOA

Meanwhile, Sahara India Pariwar recently added muscle to Indiaís Athens enterprise, announcing their Ďofficial partnership to the Indian contingentí to the Olympics. This was announced by Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi.

Also present during the announcement, in New Delhi, was Subrata Roy Sahara, managing worker and chairman of Sahara India Pariwar.

Sahara are also partners with FIH, the world hockey body. (PTI)

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