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Indian eves up against in-form South Africans

The Indians would have to ensure that they keep their winning momentum going against South Africa in the women's hockey final.

othersports Updated: Oct 29, 2003 16:38 IST

Their confidence sky-high after the stunning win against South Korea in the semifinals, the Indians would have to ensure that they keep their winning momentum going against an in-form South Africa in the women's hockey final of the Afro-Asian Games here on Thursday.

Assured of a medal, which according to chief coach M K Kaushik is "a big morale-booster for the new-look side", a win tomorrow would go a long way in making them a strong contender in Asia Cup, the winner of which will automatically qualify for the 2007 World Cup.

"We had come to this tournament primarily targeting a medal which was badly needed to boost the morale of the team consisting of several new players. Now we are just one match away from the gold medal," Kaushik told PTI here today.

India, who are here without five key players -- Sita Gossain, Mamta Kharab, Pritam Siwach, Manjinder Kaur and Sabah Anjum -- had a none-too-imressive start to the tournament. Though they beat minnows Ghana 8-0 in their opening match, they lost to South Africa 1-3 in the second game.

But since then India have regained the momentum scoring convincing wins over Kazakhstan in the last league match and the mighty Koreans in the semifinal yesterday.

But Kaushik said it would be a different ball game altogether when the side takes on South Africa, the All African Games winners who have already qualified for the Athens Olympics.

"It is very difficult to say anything on tomorrow's match. It could be anyone's game. But we are confidnet of beating them since our forward line is coming up well and creating chances at regular intervals," Kaushik said.

South Africa, who are relishing being in the final of yet another major tournament since their title win in the All Africa Games last week, are looking to go back home with some memorable moments.

"We are very excited to be in the final. It is not something that we experience often," said South African coach Ros Howell.

"This is the reward for two tough weeks on the road, during which we first bagged the All African Games title and are now close to repeating the feat here.

"Apart from the All Africa Games I don't remember South African women playing in another final," Howell said.

Though recent records suggest India's dominance over their African counterparts, South Africa's convincing win in the league match must be giving Kaushik some worries.

But he was taking heart from the fact that key player Jyoti Kullu was fighting fit for the summit clash.

"Jyoti was not fully fit that day. Now she is ready for the final, which would also give (forward) Sanggai Chanu more freedom to play her natural game," he said.

When the two teams met in the Manchester Commonwealth Games last year, India fought back from 0-3 to record a remarkable 4-3 win in the quarterfinals.

Early last year, India had beaten South Africa in back to back matches in the first six-nation Champions Challenge competition in Johannesburg.

But since then the South Africans have gone from strength to strength which was evident in yesterday's semifinal where they outplayed World Champions China 4-0.

To win the gold tomorrow, Kaushik said, India would have to tighten the defence and make the most of whatever opportunities that come their way.

"We are conceding several penalty corners and we are even poor in converting most of them.

"Several scoring opportunities went abegging against Korea last night and we cannot afford that in the final."

India frittered away at least half a dozen scoring chances and conceded 11 penalty corners against Korea. They also have a poor penalty corner conversion record -- five goals from 26 attempts -- in the last three matches -- against South Africa (1/10), Kazakhstan (2/10) and Korea (2/6).

First Published: Oct 29, 2003 16:38 IST