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2008 Azlan Shah Cup
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Can India reach the final (5/16/2008)
Having come thus far, that too when expectations were very low, can India reach the final?

This is the question that taunts hockey lovers at the present, on the eve of young Indian team taking on the hosts Malaysia tomorrow (Saturday) in their last league engagement.

Only an outright win can take India to the finals, lest on points Pakistan will reach the finals. Whereas even a draw won't do any assitance for India as, in this case, the pakistan has two goal plus difference.

So, what's waiting to happen and how India can go about?

Only way India can reach the final is not counting on penalty corner prowess of the team. True both Diwakar Ram and Sandeep Singh have brought the team to this level, but over-dependence on them wont' do any good to the team. If the team has in it, in it a resilence to blossom at right moment, and it is this. Just a match is between India and the final. An Indian team in the Azlan Shah final is a vintage stuff, we have not made it such a progress in a long long time, after 1995.

If this team can do this, nothing like that. For a sport that is breathing a whiff of fresh air, a final slot would do wonders insofar its profile is concerned.

At the same it has to be borne in mind that India need to score through field efforts. Just three goals so far has been scored this way -- and this weakness may prove to be the Achilles heels tomorrow here in Ipoh.

Coach Ajay Kumar Bansal has agreed that the forwards are not delivering, and for that he rues the missing services of Tushar Khandkar -- but at the same time he says this can be rectified only after the tournament, while preparing for the next major assignment.

Except SV Sunil, who can still play for Under-21, other forwards don't simply impress. They are not fearsome inside the circle. Their shots towards goals are not just wayward in direction, but also very gentle. How can you do that at this level?

The wing play, on the other hand, is virtually absent. Gurbaj Singh is going great guns, whethter defending or making moves upfront, he is simply very good -- he is playing upto the expectation. It cannot be said on the same length with regard to captain Sardara Singh. His main task is to hold the midfield, distribute the ball, but in his over-enthusiasm he is everywhere -- and sometimes putting the team in a lurch. Yesterday against Pakistan, he almost conceded a goal by holding the ball too long in his own territory. He has to quickly release the ball -- and it is good if he stops the fancy one handed rans with the ball. By keeping the ball away from body, he invites the rivals to re-tackle.

As coach Bansal repeatedly maintains, this team can do despite its weaknesses.

He has a point.

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