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Opposition doesn't matter: Carvalho (9/21/2007)
--Pervez Qaiser
Chennai, Sept. 21: After the high of Asia Cup triumph, Indian hockey received another piece of good news as the team are in an easier pool comprising Austria, Bangladesh, Chile, Egypt and England for next year’s Olympic qualifiers at Santiago, Chile.
India have to win the March 1-9 tournament to make it to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The major plus for the eight-time Olympic champions is that the hosts, Chile, will not be as formidable as the two other host nations of the qualifiers, Japan and New Zealand, in their home conditions. National coach Joaquim Carvalho is not ready to take the teams clubbed with India for granted. “I wouldn’t say it’s relatively an easier pool. It’s for the media to deliver a judgement. I expect tough competition in Chile because teams will be entering the fray in full strength with the sole intention of qualifying for the Olympics.

“And in world hockey one cannot take any team lightly nowadays, especially after Belgium upset World Cup holders Germany in the recent European Championship. For instance, we played Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at the Asia Cup with the same intensity as against bigger teams,” he says. “I’ve been saying that I wasn’t really worried about the composition of the qualifying pool and the venue. I’m only concerned about preparing my team that is capable of winning a leg irrespective of the opponents we will be playing,” Carvalho adds.

If the form book holds good, the Chile leg should be a straight battle between India and England, the teams placed eighth and ninth respectively in FIH’s latest world rankings. England will be tricky opponents. And Joaquim is aware of the English challenge. “Yes, England are a competitive side. Having beaten England twice at the Champions Challenge earlier this year, I think we will have a psychological edge over them,” he explains.

National selector and Olympian Gurbux Singh says India are in an easier pool. “Thanks to our good performance at the Asia Cup, we avoided Germany at the qualifiers. I think we can do it,” he adds.

Joaquim points out that the core of his Asia Cup team should be there for the qualifiers. “I’m also keeping an eye on our contingent currently in action in the German league. Technical director of the senior team M.M. Somaya and assistant coach M.P. Singh will be leaving for Germany to take first hand stock of our players,” he informs.

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