Sunday, March 27, 2011

Olympic qualifiers main target: Rajpal Singh

Defending champions India will face China in their opening match of the 19th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup International hockey tournament starting at Ipoh, Malaysia on May 6.

The win or loss in Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament will not make much difference as the team is bracing up for the tough challenge ahead — to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, said Indian captain Rajpal Singh.

A 45-member Indian squad started its preparation for the Azlan Shah Cup to be held in Kuala Lumpur from May 5 under the watchful eyes of national coach Harendra Singh at Major Dhyan Chand national stadium here on Tuesday.

After missing out on a gold medal finish at Guangzhou Asian games in November last year, India now have to go through the tough qualifying rounds to confirm their participation in the London Olympics.

“Win or loss in Azlan Shah cup tournament does not matter much to us as we see it as the beginning of our preparation for the tough Olympic qualifiers, which will start next year,” Rajpal told PTI Bhasha.

India and South Korea were the co-winners of Azlan Shah Cup last year.

Eight-time Olympic gold medal winner India, for the first time in 80 years (since their debut in 1928), had failed to take part in 2008 Beijing Olympics after the shocking 0-2 loss against Great Britain in the final of the Olympic qualifiers in Santiago.

The preparatory camp is being held after the break of more than three months but Rajpal said the long gap will not affect the form and fitness of the players.

“All the international teams were on break during this period so I don’t think it will affect us. Also almost all the Indian players were busy playing domestic tournaments and National Games. We were not completely away from the game.

“We have to play a lot of international hockey ahead so the focus will be on fitness. We will work hard on this aspect,” said Rajpal.

The Indian team has been without a coach since Jose Brasa was sacked in November, following India’s bronze-medal finish at the Asian Games. Harendra had also resigned from the post on moral grounds but Hockey India did not accept his resignation.

Rajpal said Harendra shares good camaraderie with players.

“Harendra is there with the team for almost two years now and shares very good rapport with the team. He is aware of each and everyone’s calibre hence we don’t have any problem with him,” said the captain.

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