Will India pull it off at Guangzhou?

Surinder Kaur... one of the key Indian players to watch out for in the women's section.-R.V. MOORTHY

One team which India requires to pay attention to, more than Pakistan, is Japan. The players will do well to remember Japan's performance in the four-nation event at Hamburg where it finished runner-up. By S. Thyagarajan.

Failure to take the podium for the first time since 1958, in the last edition at Doha had a cataclysmic effect on Indian hockey. The reverberations continue to haunt even now. There is no use of cataloguing them here, apart from stating the disaster that culminated in India missing the Olympics in 2008.

The nightmarish moments come to the mind even as India is all set to compete in the Guangzhou Asiad. Only a gold medal here will ensure an automatic berth for the 2012 Olympiad.

How well is India prepared for achieving this is an intriguing question. The euphoria of reaching the final at the Delhi Commonwealth Games last month turned out to be evanescent with the drubbing India received against the Aussies in the gold medal contest.

However, the significance of the wins against Pakistan and the European Champion, England, lends credence to the hope that India can pull it off at Guangzhou if the homework is done with diligence and determination.

Given the notorious inconsistency of the team, predicting anything is like slipping into an uncharted territory. Beyond a point, reading too much into the showing at Delhi is inadvisable. There has to be a fresh look. India needs to record big victories against Hong Kong and Bangladesh, overcome a predictable challenge from Japan, and of course also beat Pakistan.

Rajpal Singh and his men have their task cut out. Admittedly, the team is balanced, experienced and possesses the expertise.

One team which India requires to pay attention to, more than Pakistan, is Japan. The players will do well to remember Japan's performance in the four-nation event at Hamburg where it finished runner-up; the team even beat the Netherlands.

Siegfried Aikman, Japan's new coach of Dutch origin from Surinam, has worked wonders with the team. He is determined to improve its rating and possibly go all out for the gold.

India's strength is its midfield, held together by the craft of Arjun Halappa with support from Gurbaj Singh and Prabodh Tirkey. But the deep defenders were wonky despite the heroic work by Sardar Singh in the CWG. There has to be more harmony and grit in the defence-line.

India's trump card is Sandeep Singh in penalty corners. But stress must also be on scoring field goals using the proficiency of Sarawanjit, Shivendra and Tushar. Skipper Rajpal has not been in great touch for quite sometime now. Dharamvir scored a few splendid goals in Delhi, and should be effectively used.

Indisputably, Pakistan offers the best challenge in Pool B. Smarting under a series of defeats — twice in Delhi and in the Azlan Shah tournament — the Pakistanis are looking for an opportunity to reverse the trend.

Efforts at recalling the old war horse, Sohail Abbas, have not succeeded so far. There are reports that his name has been rejected by the Chinese authorities on the ground of late submission of entry. The newcomers are yet to jell although Zeeshan, the captain, believes that his boys can deliver. With the seasoned Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi in the fray, the unpredictability of the Pakistan side continues to haunt what with the Dutch coach van Heuvel, giving new inputs.

Korea and China should fight it out for the two top places in Pool B with the challenge from Malaysia thrown in. With four gold medals since 1986, the defending champio Korea comes into the field with palpable confidence.

The team missed the Champions Trophy by a whisker after the Delhi World Cup, but showed signs of marked recovery at Ipoh where the final against India was washed out due to rain.

Silver medallist at Doha in 2006, China will certainly carry an element of surprise in home conditions. A lot of preparatory work is said to have been done.

Malaysia has six bronze medals since 1962 but the team is unable to proceed beyond this. With talented men like Amin, Misron and Hanifa, the team cannot be taken lightly by any opposition.

The women's competition will be a single-zone round-robin with the top two fighting for the gold. The hierarchy has China at the helm but India, Korea and Japan have it in them to give the home team some moments of uncertainty.

It is a pity that India missed a podium in CWG, notwithstanding its splendid record in recent times. In fact, the team even defeated China in the first Asian Champions Trophy in Korea.

Surinder Kaur, dejected and depressed after the unpleasant moments in Delhi, is determined to put the record straight. Rani Ramphal, Jasjeet Handa, and Saba Anjum should lend her support.

With gold eluding it since 1998, Korea will be determined this time to dethrone China, aiming for a hat-trick after 2002. But to accomplish this, the Koreans have to elevate their all round performance to a different plane.

Whether the power equations will remain or change is what the Continent's enthusiasts are looking forward to as the event unfolds to determine the Olympic qualifiers.