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Olympians caution hockey team despite easy draw

Olympians caution hockey team despite easy draw

India have been handed a favourable draw for the Olympic men's hockey qualifiers next year.

New Delhi: Despite being handed a favourable draw for the Olympic men's hockey qualifiers, former players cautioned India against complacency and said it would be a disaster if the erstwhile champions failed to book their London ticket from the qualifying event in February.

According to the draw released by the International Hockey Federation (FIH), India, eight-time Olympic gold medalists who failed to qualify for the Beijing Games, will play lower-ranked teams Canada, France, Poland, Egypt and the United States in the first qualifying event to be held in Delhi from February 15 to 26.

"It's a very easy pool. If we fail to qualify for the Olympics from here, it will be a big shame for Indian hockey. In my view, in this pool no other team can threaten India," said former captain Ajitpal Singh, who led India to their only hockey World Cup triumph in Kuala Lumpur in 1975.

"But complacency is something which India need to be careful about. They should be prepared to face any consequence," added the three-time Olympian.

Another former India skipper Pargat Singh also agreed with Ajitpal and said that in spite of the easy draw, the team should be prepared for any eventuality.

"If we can't qualify from this pool, it will be the worst thing to happen to Indian hockey. If you ask me, we are relatively in a very easy group. The other teams are good but they are not better than us," he said.

"But all said and done, we shouldn't under-estimate any team. We shouldn't think that the other teams are weak. At the end of the day, any tournament should be considered as a battlefield and accordingly the team should be prepared for any result."

Former player-cum-coach Harendra Singh was of the view that being the hosts, India have an added advantage in the qualifying event.

"We should easily qualify for the Olympics from this pool. It's a very easy pool. The crowd support will be behind us. The conditions will also be in our favour," he said.

"In my opinion, either Canada or France should be our opponent in the final."

Ashok Kumar, the son of hockey legend Dhyanchand, however, felt that in spite of a relatively easy pool, it won't be cakewalk for India as in Canada they have a potential threat.

"In my opinion it won't be as easy as we are thinking. All the teams will be coming into the tournament well-prepared and with an aim to qualify for the Olympics. But if you think realistically, we should qualify from this pool. But for that we need to play consistent hockey. Canada have improved a lot over the years and we should be careful against them," Ashok observed.

Meanwhile, world number six South Korea will take on Asian Games finalists Malaysia, Ireland, Russia, Chile and Ukraine in the second qualifier in Dublin from March 10 to 18.

Beijing Olympics silver-medalists Spain, currently ranked fourth, have been clubbed alongside hosts Japan, China, Austria, the Czech Republic and Cuba in the third qualifying tournament in the Japanese city of Kakamigahara from April 25 to May 6.

The winner of each of the three tournaments will join the nine direct qualifiers in the 12-team hockey competition at year's London Games.

The teams that have already qualified, mainly through continental quotas, are defending champions Germany, hosts Britain, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa.