New Delhi: Indian hockey team`s chief coach Terry Walsh feels that a top-eight finish in the FIH World Cup is a "realistic goal" and any improvement beyond that will be a "bonus" for the team.
"Our first target is to set realistic goals for the World Cup and it is to be in the top-eight. Going further from there will definitely be a bonus. The team is looking forward to convert the chances and score. We are giving great emphasis on our defence as that will be the core to win the matches," Walsh told reporters here today.
A series of injuries might be plaguing India`s month-long preparatory camp for the World Cup but Walsh exuded confidence that his boys will be fit by the time the championship starts.
"There are always injuries in a team. It impacts the preparation but you know someone will always be injured during the training. You just have to hope that it is not a significant one. Time is a factor and sometimes it can be 10 days and sometimes it is 10 weeks," Walsh told reporters.
"We are still 11 weeks away and it is a considerable amount of time and they have made good progress in the first few days and if it goes as well as it has gone in last few days, I will be really pleased."
India begun its preparation for the 13th edition of the World Cup to be held from May 31 to June 15 at The Hague, Netherlands with a month-long preparatory camp from March 9th at the Major Dhyan Chand stadium here.
Giving an update on the injured players, Walsh said: "Mandeep`s (Singh) last MRI was on March 5th. He will take another four weeks. (Gurvinder Singh) Chandi is significantly better. He looks able to start running next week and may be it will take him another six weeks.
"(SV) Sunil fell on his shoulder and we don`t think it is serious. There is some spasm. Danish (Mujtaba) is fit from an injury point but far from his best.
"Harbir (Singh) has a groin injury. He is pain free now. In two to four weeks, he will be able to start training. He is dying to train," he said.
Walsh said the team is focusing on a lot of aspects.
"We are focusing on goal scoring, defensive tackling, and areas on set pieces. There are a lot of things we are focusing on. The guys are fantastic."
Asked if the hectic Hockey India League (HIL) schedule is having an impact on the players, Walsh said: "We didn`t come straight from HIL here. There was a rest period. Ya, some may have little things but nothing major."
He said the players, such as Gurbaj Singh and Vikram Kanth, who have comeback to the team after being away from the team for sometime, are "fitting really well."
Walsh said Asian Games and World Cup are the two tournaments which India is targeting and it is not possible to peak in all the events in a hectic season.
"World cup is the most important event in the world stage apart from Olympic Games. Commonwealth Games is nowhere near, partly because CWG doesn`t give you an automatic ticket to Olympics and India wants to qualify through the front door.
"I personally don`t distinguish but we should be better prepared when we hit the Asian Games then at the World cup. We should have better understanding and flow in our game then. I am looking at an overall improvement," he said.
Talking about the young players like Affan Yousuf in the team, he said: "Affan is growing as a player. He is growing in skill, confidence and probably as a person and it is important, and there are other players as well. We have 16 players in the core group."
Stressing on physical fitness, he said: "When you are physically able, you can do a lot of tactical things on the field. One of the thing we are pretty poor at is re-tackling. It is improving. We have seen significant improvement during the HIL. But it will take some time."
"We want to have the best team for the world cup and Asian Games. We will have such intense time this year that we will have to plan as and when things happen. We might need to change a few players to keep the best team for important events," he said.
Talking about the team performance, captain Sardar Singh said:"Our complete focus is on the World Cup. The coach has introduced new techniques in the game that will help us further. Right from the basic learning of using the stick technically, to the positioning of the players, we are working on every aspect of the game.
"Self belief is really important for the upcoming matches, as it will help us to perform better. The involvement of the mid fielder in the game and scoring is equally important.
"Each player should be careful about their position and the goal opportunities in the game. Our coach is supportive and he keeps guiding in every possible manner."