Hockey: European promotion vital to Scots' funding bid

SCOTLAND'S men have not played among Europe's elite since Leipzig 2005, so coach Russell Garcia's aim is to gain promotion from the European Nations Championships 11 in Ukraine after two failed attempts in Lisbon (2007) and Wrexham (2009).

In the pool competition the Scots face favourites Austria, Belarus and hosts Ukraine, and must come in the top two to advance to the crucial semi-final stages, and victory here against either Poland, Czech Republic, Wales or Sweden from the other pool would guarantee a coveted promotion spot.

"Promotion in Europeans is vital to Scotland's future progress, it opens up increased funding, it gives us status so that other top nations will want to play us, and finally it is the best preparations for the Commonwealth Games in 2014," said Eugene Connolly, Scotland's manager.

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After coming fourth in the recent FIH Champions Challenge in Lille a few weeks ago, Connolly believes the Scots have the squad to achieve the promotion target. "Our display in Lille was encouraging, we caused problems to teams above us in the world rankings, and there is not a side we can't beat in this tournament.

"But it's all about keeping our discipline, playing our own game and putting it together during the week of the tournament."

Scotland's record in the build-up programme has been a bit up and down, but Garcia has rarely had a full squad to pick from. Glynhill Kelburne's Chris Nelson, a veteran of 97 caps, returns from shin problems for the first time since the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. "Nelson provides a lot to the squad, maturity, he is a very skilful player and he is the brains coming forward from left midfield," said Connolly.

The two Great Britain players, East Grinstead's Niall Stott and striker Stephen Dick who turns out for Reading, are available to lend their considerable experience to the Scotland cause. "The pair will provide us with physical and technical strength, they are a real asset as both have played at the highest level with GB," Connolly remarked.

On the down side, Kelburne's playmaker Michael Christie has been forced to withdraw for family reasons, and his creativity in the midfield will undoubtedly be a loss.

The Scots open their bid for promotion against Ukraine on Monday and a win here is essential against a side ranked ten places below them.