Mattia Melato diving over Singapore's Mohammad Alfian Samsuri (centre)
as teammate Andrea Vargiu (right) fights for the ball during their
Olympic qualifier in New Delhi.
EVEN after enduring six consecutive
thrashings, national hockey coach Solomon Casoojee insists that sending
the Singapore team to the Olympic qualifiers was not a mistake.
The team suffered yet another
loss yesterday in the play-off for fifth place, going down 0-5 to Italy
at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
Said the South African in a telephone
interview from New Delhi: 'I make no apologies for making the decision
to send the boys here.
'Up until now, we've just been
playing second-tier competitions. You can tell the boys there's a big
gap between us and the top teams, but sometimes they don't believe it
until they see it for themselves.'
His charges are winless in the six-team, round-robin tournament, having conceded 59 goals while sending only five shots in.
They lost their group matches against India (1-15), France (0-9), Canada (1-15), Poland (3-11) and Italy (0-4).
Ranked 41st in the world and with an average
squad age of just 21, Singapore were the lowest-ranked and youngest team
in the week-long tournament.
Their ticket to the qualifiers came after a
last-minute pull-out by the United States. The top two sides in the
round-robin stage - hosts India and France - played off late last night
for a slot at the London Games.
Added Casoojee, who took over the helm last
March: 'We played some attractive hockey here and the feedback from
other countries has been encouraging.'
For centre midfielder Ashriq Ferdaus, the gulf
between Singapore and the best like India and France was not just in
technique, but also in terms of fitness levels.
Said the 18-year-old: 'Fitness was definitely
one of the key problems we had. We played back-to-back games and that's
something we're not used to.
'Most of us have not played at this level
before. It was a very good learning journey, even though sometimes we
did feel demoralised after losing.'
Singapore Hockey Federation chief executive
Mark Chay insisted the $60,000 spent on sending the 18 players and five
officials - plans for a week-long training camp in Australia were
scrapped in place of the qualifiers - was money well spent.
'No other training camps or tournament would
have given us this many quality games and experience,' said the former