Realistic Italy eyeing 3rd-4th place in Oly Qualifier

New Delhi: Placed as low as 28th in the world rankings, the Italian men`s hockey team is realistic about its chances in the upcoming London Olympic qualifiers and has set its eyes on playing the third-fourth place play-off match and gain some much-needed experience here.

In a country where field hockey hardly has any takers, the February 18-26 event provides the Italian team an opportunity to rub shoulders with erstwhile giants of the game and eight-time Olympic champions, India.

"Field hockey is not that famous in Italy. The populairity of soccer and ice hockey are incredible. It is very difficult to find sponsors," Italy coach Roberto Da Gai said on Monday.

"Our players are not professionals. Most of them are students and mostly train three times a week.

"So, we know our limitations. If we can finish 3rd or 4th (in the qualifiers) it would be a great result. Our goal is to beat Singapore (41st) who are below us (in the FIH rankings)," he added.

Besides India and Singapore, Italy will play Canada (14th), France (18th) and Poland (19th) in the qualifiers for the London Games.

Asked about their preparations for the tournament, Da Gai said the icy cold conditions back home did not help their cause much.

"In Italy we play mostly indoors because it is very cold. We got only a few days to practice at outdoor facilities because of snow," he said.

"The last international match we played was 6 months back in July in the European Cup."

Da Gai`s views were seconded by his skipper Jacopo Lunetta, who is also the second-highest capped player for Italy.

"We didn`t get much time to prepare. So, this week and and the two friendly games against Canada and France will be crucial to understand our level," he said.

Asked about the prospect of playing against India, the 31-year-old said, "The match against India would be a big one for all of us. I grew up watching Indian hockey and thats how I had developed my interest for the game."