Hockey stars hungry to join the A teams

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PROMOTION-CHASING Scotland have no fear ahead of the hockey European Trophy and netminder Allan Dick declared today: "We're desperate to mix it with the best."

Scotland's finest were pitch side as Holland edged Spain to win the European title in Manchester recently and the trip whetted the appetite of the tartan team.

They were flying out to Portugal today for five days of acclimatisation in the searing heat and humidity before hostilities start on September 9 and the fully-fit, 18-strong squad are well-rested having been given a week off by their German-born coach Mathias Ahrens to relax after a gruelling build-up which has included a number of tiring trips.

Now, it's decision time and the Inverleith goalkeeper is confident they can deliver, despite the heat and the standard of opposition.

"Nobody is kidding themselves. We're in a tough group with Wales, Ukraine and Switzerland. Wales won the Celtic Cup and we were third. They will view the game against us as their cup final and they will be fired-up for it.

"They beat us 1-0 in the Celtic Cup but they only had one shot on target. We dominated the whole game and couldn't put the ball away. We also had 11 penalty corners and couldn't score."

Things will be different this time, barring injury, as Kelburne goal machine Jonathan Christie is back after injury and he normally thrives on the chances Scotland passed up in the previous meeting. "Ukraine have played us twice this year in Poland and Egypt," he said. "They are a good side who have not yet shown their best.

"Hopefully, they'll not do that against us but they are well organised and two of their players possess really good skills which can hurt you.

"Switzerland drew with us in Egypt and they are well organised. Most of their guys are of German extraction and they play the German way: keep the ball, move it around and don't give it up cheaply.

"However, our coach is German and Mathias will know how they will play and who makes them tick. They will be tough opponents because of their organisation.

"I believe our toughest game will be against the Welsh and they will be fired up. We'll have to match them on the day but I believe that we can succeed."

Victory in the first game is vital and Dick added: "We desperately want the three points that victory would bring. That would allow us to control our own destiny.

"Defeat means we may have to rely on others and we don't want that."

Scotland are likely to play a 4-3-3 system but alternate their playing staff and Dick added: "Mathias feels that this is the best system for us.

"We go into the tournament fearing nobody. There are some really good sides with Italy, Austria, Poland and the hosts, Portugal, in the other qualifying section.

"We've been to Lisbon and played on the pitches we'll be using. Heat will be a factor and we're travelling well ahead of the opening game just to make sure.

" The temperature is in the low 30s centigrade and we'll have to take plenty of fluids."

Scotland beat Italy at home in July winning 9-1 and 5-3 and familiarised themselves with Lisbon earlier this month, beating Portugal 4-0 and 6-0. The team then won silver in the Four Nations tournament in Poland.

They are ranked No.2 for the tournament and need to finish in the top to two win promotion back to Europe's A Division.

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