New Delhi: He guided India to a historic bronze medal in the junior women`s hockey World Cup in 2013, and a year later Neil Hawgood is now eyeing an encore if not better with the senior team in the upcoming Commonwealth Games, beginning July 23.
The Indian eves could not have asked for a better preparation ahead of the Glasgow Games as they routed Malaysia 6-0 in an away Test series recently to gain confidence.
Taking a lot of positives from this success, Hawgood has set his sights on at least a semifinal finish in the CWG. "The Malaysia series gave the girls a chance to play Test matches without any pressure. The series gave them an opportunity to express themselves and try out new things. In the end, the results lifted our confidence tremendously," coach Hawgood told PTI in an interview before boarding the flight to Glasgow.
"The CWG is a big tournament for us ahead of the Asian Games. Our first target is a top-4 finish, if we don`t qualify for the semifinals it will be a big disappointment. In the semifinals anything can happen," the Australian said. The CWG has great significance for India ahead of the "important" Asian Games to be host by South Korean city of Incheon from September 19 to October 4, and Hawgood is well aware of the fact.
"For a coach every tournament is important. But in long-term perspective the Asian Games is more important for us. It gives us a chance to directly qualify for the Rio Olympics," he said.
"The CWG is part of our preparation for the Asian Games just like the Champions Challenge and Malaysia tour. We are aiming to play consistent hockey leading to the Asian Games. The CWG will provide us a chance to test ourselves against some big teams."
India have fielded a relatively young side for the CWG with as many 12 junior players in the squad. The team led by Ritu Rani will, however, miss the services of experienced Chanchan Devi and Binita Lakra, both of whom are injured. "Ours is a relatively young group. There are 12 girls in the team who will have a chance to play in next year`s junior World Cup qualifiers," Hawgood said.
"We will definitely miss the experience of seniors like Chanchan and Binita in CWG but it gives other players an opportunity to showcase their talent and fight for places." The Indian eves are placed in a relatively tough Pool A alongside New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago while Pool B consists of Australia, England, Scotland, Malaysia and Wales.
India might be languishing at the 13th position in the world but Hawgood feels his wards now can well and truely compete with teams ranked 5-8th.
"I am not sure whether we are ready to compete with world No. 1, 2 and 3 but we are truely in a position to compete with 5, 6, 7, 8th ranked teams," the chief coach insisted.