Melbourne, Mar 12 (UNI) Indian hockey coach Rajinder Singh today described defending champion Australia as the main hurdle between his team and the gold medal at the commonwealth Games here.
''I have no hesitation to say that the Aussies are a very formidable side and perhaps are the strongest team in the World at present,'' Rajinder said.
Though Australia is not in India's pool but Rajinder was of the view that any team hoping to win the gold here must hope that the Aussies play badly.
''They (Australia) will have to play really badly to lose here,'' said the Indian coach who was optimistic about his team's good showing.
''The boys are working hard and are confident of performing well,'' he said.
This is the second time that India is taking part in Commonwealth Games Hockey competition. In 1998 when the sport was introduced for the first time at Kualalumpur, India had finished fourth.
India did not take part in the hockey competition of the Manchester Games in 2002.
Meanwhile Pakistan hockey coach Asif Bajwa has also admitted that it will be hard to beat the Australians.
''They are expected to retain the gold but I think there will be a stiff fight for Silver and bronze,'' he said.
However, the host team's captain Brent Livermore begs to differ with the coaches of the two challengers.
''These (India and Pakistan) teams are very dangerous and can upset any rival on their day,'' Livermore said.
''Just look at our form against Pakistan in the last one year -- four matches, one win, two draws and a loss and what a loss it was as we went down in the final of Robobank Cup in Amsterdam.'' Livermore was of the view that it will be foolish on his players part to underestimate the strength of their rivals.
''Pakistan and India are very strong sides and are serious title contenders.'' ''It will be foolish to think that we will have no challenge,'' said the Aussie captain.
''I don't know why India and Pakistan have dismissed their own chances,'' he said adding, ''We will be respecting all our opposition.'' India after losing 0-3 to Pakistan in the first leg of the six-Test series at home, won the next leg 1-0 after drawing two matches against the arch rivals before coming here.
This was for the first time that India did not lose a series against Pakistan in that country and it has certainly boosted the morale of the players.
''We will give our best,'' Rajinder said but hastened to add, ''The team must convert even the half chances that will come their way to win a medal.'' ''We just can't afford to miss to chances as we did in the series against Pakistan,'' he said.
On the other hand Asif was hopeful that his forwards would not repeat the mistakes they committed in the home series against India.
''The boys have learnt a lot and I am confident they will give better performance.'' Pakistan won a bronze medal in Manchester Games but not before losing to New Zealand by seven goals in the league match and that defeat still rankles.
''There are only four players in this squad who have played in Manchester, so it will be a fresh start for the players,'' Asif added.
UNI HSB PM PM1153