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Beware of France (2/20/2012)
--K. Arumugam
Beware of France

No country is push over in modern hockey. And certainly France is not. This country in hockey is known for a famous umpire it produced, Renauld, and also the upset it causes to the leading teams.

In the context of India taking on the France tomorrow, the awe it struck on the hosts in the past is something that needs to be understood if India has to progress smoothly towards the final on next Sunday.

Its India’s failure to defeat France in the first ever Olympic Qualifier it played in Auckland in 1991 which almost denied India the Barcelona Olympics. India huffed and puffed against France in its third match, which ended goalless.

In the end, India had to depend on other match results to book the semis slot and thus avoid a Chile in 1991.

That time Balkrishnan’s boys had underestimated their rivals, and did not take lessons from what happened a year ago.

In Lahore in the 1990 World Cup, Pargat Singh and Co failed to collect full points. Their goalkeeping was so good that our fullback debutant Ajit Lakra could not put past even a stroke.

In Lahore, India messed up its prospects thus. India finished 10th beating Canada for that in the ranking match.

In 2004, France came to India. It was peak winter, December. There was not many willing to play them. The Christmas holidays were one, most Indian players were reluctant. Indian Hockey Federation thought of fielding domestic giants like Indian Airlines and Punjab and Sindh Bank team. They refused.

Then the IHF turned to its own team – Indian team.

Coach Gerrard Rach was on Christmas vacation. His deputy Jagbir Singh was cajoled to take up the Series, much against his readiness, and the team not in the shape.

He had to bow, and the three match series was held in the Shivaji stadium.

It was the only occasion I get to see otherwise polite and composed Dilip Tirkey getting a yellow card!

The mood of the players were such that. They wanted leave, but got international series.

India won the First, second was a draw. India led 3-0 in the series decider, but in the second half France converted four penalty corners to defeat India and win the series. Spectators at the Shivaji Stadium were so agitated, a VIP who was supposed to give away the prize could not come down from the dais which was laid on the first top row of the stands, the France team had been called there instead.

Indian had to move out from the other gate, fearing fans in the main gate.

These may have happened in the past, the lessons need to be leart. Don’t take them lightly on Tuesday.

France is already on form having won both matches.

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