Canada keen to make mark

Team has reached the peak of      four-year cycle, says coach D’Abreo.

The Canada men's team turned their focus on the Olympic qualifiers soon after the 2010 Commonwealth Games and coach Robin D’Abreo feels the team has reached the peak of their four-year cycle.

The Canadian team trains at Vancouver and Mumbai born D'Abreo is satisfied with their progress. The team had also qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games.

“The practice of the team is going really well. We turned our focus to the Olympic qualifiers soon after the Commonwealth Games. This is the peak of our four-year cycle and performance here is important to us,” D’Abreo said.

The team had come agonisingly close to qualifying for the London Games but lost in the final of the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Canada is second after India in the rankings, the other teams being France, Poland, Italy and Singapore.

The coach said though his team was not “at par” with India, it can definitely give the hosts a good fight. “India are a very good side, they deserve to be the highest ranked, considering the way they have been playing. We had played them recently in the Champions Challenge and also Poland, but teams like Singapore and Italy are unknown to us,” he said.

D’Abreo also pointed out the importance of drag-flick in modern hockey. “Penalty corner conversions have become very important nowadays. We have Scott Tupper who marshals our defence and is a sober drag-flicker. He is very composed with the ball. India, too, have a very good drag-flicker in Sandeep Singh, who is a threat to any opposition.”

Indian-origin captain Ken Pereira, 38, said the team is a healthy mix of youth and experience. “Some new guys have come in since the Commonwealth Games. It will be interesting for them to be playing in front of a passionate crowd. The crowd can get noisy, but it is well informed about hockey,” Pereira said.

Unlike Canada, the French men's team is visiting India for the first time. Its coach Frederic Soyez had toured the country in 2004 as a player but had his first experience of the pitch at the revamped Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.

His boys, he admitted, cannot be called great talent, most being students and others working abroad. But, according to him, their target was nothing short of reaching the final. “Reaching the final is most important even though India are big favourites,” he said. “The stadium is a really good and we enjoyed training on the turf.”

France has not played in the Olympics since 1972 and it has been almost a year since they have played a competitive match, Grand Masters Hockey European Cup in August being their last tournament.

Captain Arnaud Becuwe, who works in Spain as a trainer with the club teams, hoped they will improve playing among the top teams.  

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