Britain looking towards Atlanta

Bill Colwill reports from Barcelona on the Olympic hockey qualifying tournament
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The Independent Online
Great Britain, teetering on the edge of Olympic qualification, play Malaysia this morning in their sixth game here, with a point for either side enough to give them a place in Atlanta.

Anything other than victory for Canada against Spain, in their game which follows Britain's match, will give the British their ticket, but tension is high in the British camp, with so much support for hockey in this country resting on the tournament.

The manager, David Whittle, was in a forthright mood yesterday: "We shall be going for an all-out win. We are best at going forward and Whits [coach David Whitaker] does not like negative play. What's more, we need a win to stop the idea that we are becoming the draw specialists."

He was referring to the fact that so far Britain have drawn three of their four games. This, of course, is largely the result of the type of qualifying tournament this is - a round-robin with just three of the eight teams falling by the wayside. Already Belgium and Belarus have drifted away from the rest of the pack.

Both coaches made it clear yesterday that the results of two recent encounters between Malaysia and Great Britain at Bisham Abbey, where Britain won 1-0 and 5-1, would have little bearing on today's game.

Volker Knapp, the German coach of Malaysia, said then that he felt Britain were in the top six or so in the world. Yesterday he was quite prepared to shake hands with Whittle and settle for a draw, but Whitaker's policy since England's limited success in the European Cup in Dublin has been to attack, and only the Dutch have scored more goals in this tournament.

Attacking hockey, coupled with the support of the specialist corner striker, Calum Giles, has brought its rewards and should bring celebrations today. Whittle's target is four points from their last two games and this is well within their reach.

There has been much talk in Barcelona as the International Rules Board started a series of meetings yesterday about the use of a specialist corner striker.

The Dutch coach, Roelant Oltmans, who saw victory snatched from his side on Thursday when Giles scored a late equaliser, said: "They are quite within their rights to do it but I don't like it, nor do many of the coaches here. It's not good for the game. My players have to practise passing, tackling and dribbling. He just has to practise one thing. It makes the difference, he has shown it."

Whitaker concedes he is none too keen on the idea but admits, if he can exploit the rules to win another Olympic medal, then he will. The good news is that whatever is decided here, and it seems likely they will revert to the previous rule which allowed no substitution after the award of a penalty corner, the rules will not be changed before Atlanta.

Giles, who so far in the five games has only been on the pitch for 15min 42sec, from a possible 350 minutes, for his five goals, looks likely to add to his tally against Malaysia and Belgium in the last two games.

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