Britain on verge of excellence

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The Independent Online
Great Britain's Olympic qualifying campaign went according to plan in Barcelona, albeit without the services of two very senior players and also the captain, Jason Laslett, on the final day.

Russell Garcia, the 1988 Olympic gold medallist who had been expected to play the key midfield role at his own club venue, was stricken down with gastro-enteritis before the tournament began and Julian Halls, the iron man in the defence, missed out on all the games.

The absence of two key players clearly put a strain on the squad, in particular on John Shaw and Soma Singh. Their coach, David Whitaker, said: "I was unable to rest them as I would have liked. They both responded to my full satisfaction."

He added: "I have been very pleased with the players' attitude and strength. The pressure in a round-robin competition is very challenging, but we were unbeaten. We are potentially a very good team. We dominated every game at times but allowed some teams to come back at us. We do not finish as clinically as, say, the Dutch or the Australians, but we have time to work on that."

Certainly, there is a need for Britain to make more of the chances they create and too much reliance is put on the ability of specialist corner striker Calum Giles. The Havant striker again responded to the challenge, being second top scorer with eight goals in a total match time of just under 21 minutes.

With an unbeaten run of 17 internationals since the end of November, the squad will now rest until the opening of the new Milton Keynes stadium on 24 March, when England were to play India. But following the announcement by the Indian coach, Cedric D'Souza, after the last game in Barcelona that India would send an under-21 side and ex-internationals, the Hockey Association president, Robin Elliott, said: "We have no interest in playing other than the full national squad. If that is the case, then we will look to get another country of equal quality."

Following the goalless draw between India and Malaysia, which was suspiciously lacking in commitment, the Canadian vice-president, Don Patterson, has lodged a complaint with the International Hockey Federation.

n Starting on 5 August, as a temporary experiment, there will be no offside in hockey.