| PILLAY: Honour at stake
Cologne: An erratic defence and a sluggish midfield are the areas demanding Indian coach Rajinder Singh’s immediate attention as his team line up in a six-nation field for the Champions Trophy beginning on Saturday.
The tournament, which features India after six years, offers an opportunity to the country to salvage some pride after it finished a dismal tenth in the World Cup in February this year.
It is the first time since 1989 that India have qualified for the tournament. Their appearance in the 1996 edition in Chennai was by virtue of being the hosts.
Even in the lead-up game to this tournament, the tidings were hardly encouraging with India losing to Australia and Holland and drawing South Korea in the four-nation Rabobank Classic.
The odds are undoubtedly stacked against India but coach Singh and the boys are more than eager to make amends. India’s match with Olympic champions Holland is the second match of the day after Pakistan open against hosts Germany. In the day’s last match, South Korea meet Australia.
Singh knows to dream right now would be foolhardy. The Rabobank Classic showed that the gap between the top teams and India does exist and a huge amount of work still needs to be done.
The Indian performance gave the coach a glimpse of the areas that need plugging before the Pusan Asian Games, where they are defending champions.
“I think we have a huge task ahead of us,” said Singh. “Playing in the Champions Trophy is prestigious but we also need to do well. We need to put that talent into the right place so that the input that goes also shows results in terms of victories.”
Singh has played enough hockey for India at the top level to know and realise that there is a yawning gap between junior sides and senior teams.
“Of course, I know that the success I achieved with the junior team in winning the junior World Cup will be difficult to replicate but at the same time, I do stress that it will not be difficult to regain a top four position.
“But we need to work, work hard and see that a consistent level of work is done in the 70 minutes that India plays on the pitch,” Singh said.
But in the same breath, the coach warns fans not to expect miracles when he says, “This is a preparation time for the team. We are looking at the Asian Games and the 2004 Olympics.”
Or if one puts it in Dhanraj Pillay’s words, “For us, it is a matter of honour and prestige.”
For Pakistan too it is a matter of honour and prestige. Nobody in their wildest dreams even thought Pakistan would lose to New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games semi-final and that too by a 1-7 margin.
It rattled Pakistan hockey and now the team coached by former star player Tahir Zaman wants compensation in the form of a Champions Trophy win.