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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 February 2008, 13:14 GMT
Make or break for GB men's hockey
By Ollie Williams

Barry Middleton playing for England
England failed to make the final of the 2006 Commonwealth Games
The GB men's hockey team travel to Chile knowing they must win their forthcoming qualifying tournament to reach this summer's Olympics.

Any other result will mean the men miss out for the first time since 1980.

Coaching staff admit funding is on the line if GB fail to qualify, but are confident of springing a surprise.

Five other nations - Austria, Mexico, hosts Chile, Russia and India - will compete alongside GB in the tournament, which takes place from 1-9 March.

Teams play each other once, after which the top two sides progress to the final.

606: DEBATE
GB team members usually compete for their individual home nations, with England ranked eighth in the world - marginally ahead of qualifying rivals India, in ninth.

The Russians, ranked 45th in the world, were invited to the tournament following the withdrawal of 28th-ranked Bangladesh.

The pressure is very much on GB head coach Jason Lee and his team, as failure to perform in Chile could deal a crippling blow to men's hockey in Britain.

Everyone knows how much is riding on Chile

Jonty Clarke
Lee is particularly worried that funding will be cut if GB do not make it to Beijing.

"It will come down to one game," Lee told BBC Sport, echoing the widely-held belief that GB will meet rivals India in the decider.

"The last time the women didn't qualify for the Olympics we had our budget cut by about 70%, which reflects on lots of millions of pounds.

"It's as pressured as it can be in our game."

The British men's team has seen performances and results nosedive following their gold medal-winning campaign at the 1988 Seoul Games.

GB placed ninth at Athens in 2004, their worst finish since the 1968 Games, barring the side's boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

GB players celebrate in Seoul in 1988
GB beat West Germany 3-1 to win gold at Seoul in 1988
At the time of the Athens Games, Lee, who had just taken over as head coach, told BBC Sport significant changes to domestic hockey were required for the national side to improve.

However, the team now finds itself in the even more precarious position of needing to win a six-team tournament just to reach the Games.

David Faulkner, GB hockey's performance director, earned an Olympic gold medal as part of the victorious 1988 team.

Faced with the prospect of crashing out at Chile, Faulkner admits the changes Lee and others wanted have yet to materialise.

"We always said hockey needed to be fixed in two [Olympic] cycles," he said.

"In the last three Olympic campaigns we've always tried to do it in one cycle and it's backfired, and backfired, and backfired.

"In doing a two-cycle fix we recognise there will be some close shaves and pressure moments, and Chile is one of those moments."

In the run-up to the tournament, hockey in Britain has struggled to present a united front.

Faulkner told one national newspaper there were "agendas all over the place" within the sport, and more than one former GB international has privately suggested the team lacks ambition.

Jonty Clarke
GB star Jonty Clarke says the team are feeling the pressure
Current GB star Jonty Clarke, who plays for top domestic side Reading, insists that is not the case.

"We are doing everything we can to do as well as we can at the Olympic Games," said Clarke after GB's 3-1 friendly victory over Poland in early February.

"Everyone knows how much is riding on Chile, but if we play the way we know we can, we'll get to the final - then it's a one-off game and anything can happen.

"We've done as much as we can in the last four or five months, as well as over the last four years, to make sure we have the best chance of things going our way in that final."

Lee believes the team should not be underestimated despite their current predicament.

"We're in good form, we're well organised and well structured.

"We expect to be really competitive and we're one of the countries most able to make a surprise."



SEE ALSO
Team GB for Beijing
29 Nov 07 |  Team GB
Basic rules of hockey
05 Oct 05 |  Hockey
Basic hockey skills
05 Oct 05 |  Hockey


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