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May 13, 2014 at 08:00pm IST

Hockey: Australia's Mark Knowles says India among the best

New Delhi: Australia hockey captain Mark Knowles feels India is a far better team for their chief coach Terry Walsh to be looking at a mere top-eight finish in the upcoming World Cup.

Olympic gold medallist Knowles sees Walsh's statement as some kind of a general tonic to boost the health and morale of the squad ahead of the 12-team tournament -- perhaps to make the boys relax and ease the pressure.

"Walsh could have pegged his mark lower just to ease off the pressure so that the guys don't think too much about their position and concentrate on their game. India certainly can finish much higher than top-8," Knowles told IANS over phone from Perth Tuesday.

Hockey: Australia's Mark Knowles says India among the best

Knowles feels India is a far better team for their chief coach Terry Walsh to be looking at a mere top-eight finish in the upcoming World Cup. (Getty Images)

Qualifying his optimism, Knowles said India's VR Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh are among the world's best drag-flickers who add further strength to a world class midfield and an enterprising forward line.

"India's penalty corner experts Raghu and Rupinder are among the best in the world, no one will dispute that. They have a world class midfield and an energetic forward line too," added the Kookaburra, who was part of the 2004 Athens Olympics gold medal winning team.

World No.8 India have drawn defending champions Australia, England, Belgium, Spain and Malaysia in Pool A of the World Cup to be played at The Hague May 31-June 15.

"India can beat anybody on a given day but I hope they don't beat us," quipped the Queenslander. "They can beat England, Spain and Belgium and threaten us too but we have four matches before we play them. We will closely follow their game before we face them and have to be careful. But it is going to be a fantastic match."

"India have improved a lot over the last two years and on their day they could be as good as anybody. But their challenge will be to play high level hockey consistently," said the 30-year-old, who also has two bronze medals from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Knowles, who won the 2010 World Cup here, will be leading the defending champions into what he claims is a tough pool, and their first target will be to reach the semifinals.

"We have a really difficult pool with two top European teams -- England and Belgium -- who can give us tough competition. We have India (June 9) against whom it is always amazing to play considering the skills they have. And we have Malaysia against whom we played a tough final in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup recently even though the scoreline doesn't suggest it," said the skipper of the world's No.1 team.

"First thing is to reach the semifinals. If we get there, we'll know we can beat any team. It is important to start well against Malaysia (May 31) before we take on others."

The Kookaburras are currently in a training camp in Perth under legendary coach Ric Charlesworth, who will step down after the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in August.

"Our preparations have been good, we have been undergoing rigorous training for sharpening our skills to get ready for the World Cup. We will be playing two games in England and a couple of practice games to get used to the European conditions before the World Cup," said Knowles, who has also won two Commonwealth Games golds in 2006 and 2010.

The captain praised Charlesworth, who has been at the helm since 2009, for his contribution to Australian hockey.

"Ric has been phenomenal and we benefited immensely by his knowledge of the game. He took over from another amazing coach Barry Dancer and made us tougher to reach new heights. If we are a hockey powerhouse today it is because he has instilled in us confidence to become world beaters," concluded Knowles.

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