Unlike the men, the Indian women’s hockey team don’t have a rich history at the Olympics. The team will be making just their third appearance at the quadrennial Games, so the focus will be on creating history.
The Rani Rampal-led history have already done that after qualifying for back-to-back Olympic Games for the first time, but the desire is to do more. In Rio, where the team made the cut for the Games after a 36-year absence, they had an outing to forget.
India lost four out of the five matches conceding 19 goals and scoring just three in reply. The only draw came against Japan where the Rani Rampal-led side had to twice come from behind.
However, at Tokyo, India are hoping to at least match that feat. The general desire is to do a lot more than make up the numbers.
Ranked tenth in the FIH charts, reaching the quarter-finals would mean over-achievement for Sjoerd Marijne’s team, but the coach feels it’s a realistic target.
“I think probably because we did good in the past in the last four years, but still we have to be realistic. We are focusing on reaching the quarter-finals and that’s realistic and from there, anything can happen,” Marinje said.
The Dutch coach added: “I have seen these players believe. Earlier they used to be content at losing by a narrow margin. Now they are not pleased when they lose.”
Indian women's hockey record at Olympics
|2||2016||Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||12th|
India women's performance in last Olympic cycle
|2016-'17 FIH Women's Hockey World League||6||1||1||4||16th|
|2017 Women's Asia Cup||6||6||0||0||1st|
|2018 Commonwealth Games||6||3||0||3||4th|
|2018 Asian Champions Trophy||5||3||1||1||2nd|
|2018 Women's Hockey World Cup||5||1||3||1||8th|
| 2018-19 FIH Women's Series Finals|
|2019 Olympic Qualifiers||2||2||0||0||NA|
India’s performance at the World Cup (reaching quarter-finals), Commonwealth Games and Asian games will give them encouragement for a good show at Tokyo where the challenge for the team will be as much mental as technical.
“At Rio, we were happy to have qualified after 36 years but we lacked experience at that level. We were thinking a lot about the rankings,” India’s goalkeeper and vice-captain Savita said.
“We still have respect for the opponent team’s rankings but we are aware of our strengths, we will go match by match and give our best every time. We don’t want to give any excuses for the Olympics. We are ready for everything,” she added.
However, in terms of physical abilities, India can match the best in the game.
“Earlier people felt that we were no match for the European teams. If you see our team over the period of last four-five years, fitness-wise we are no less than any other team,” captain Rani said.
Indian women's hockey team squad
|Savita Punia (VC)||Gurjit Kaur||Monika Malik||Sharmila Devi|
|Deep Grace Ekka||Nisha||Vandana Katariya|
|Nikki Pradhan||Sushila Chanu||Lalremsiami|
|Udita Duhan||Navjot Kaur||Navneet Kaur|
|Salima Tete||Rani Rampal (C)|
Better support for Rani Rampal
Indian women’s team for a long time have been pretty much about their captain Rani. The team’s fate largely hinged on her performances and the ability to carry the team all by herself but in recent years, players have emerged who could provide support to the Indian captain.
Securing back-to-back qualification and wins over higher-ranked teams like Great Britain, New Zealand and Spain show that they are a much stronger unit than before.
“The women’s team have done really well. They haven’t been able to get into that top bracket but they have developed into a good all-round team who have improved tactically and physically,” former Indian men’s hockey player MM Somaya told Scroll.in
“They are no longer dependent just on Rani Rampal and have a good batch of players across the field,” he added.
Vandana Katariya has been sharing the goalscoring burden along with captain Rani and is the second-highest goalscorer in the current team with 64 goals. Having played just one game fewer than Rani, she also has no shortage of experience.
There are experienced legs in the Indian rearguard with deep defender Deep Grace Ekka and goalkeeper Savita both having featured for the national team in over 200 games.
“Rani Rampal will obviously be a key figure for India, but I feel Deep Grace Ekka and Vandana Katariya will also be crucial and will have to bring their experience into play,” said Somaya.
“There are a few promising young players like Gurjit Kaur, who is the drag-flicker, and forward Lalremsiami. If they can step up, then India’s chances will improve,” he added.
India’s problems recently have been more about making their good spells count. Against stronger sides, Marinje’s team have impressed with their performances but haven’t had the necessary results to show for it.
“Despite improvements in many aspects, the women’s team need to show better game awareness at times. It’s an area where they have struggled and they will need to get that right if they are to do well at the Olympics,” Somaya said.
“Another aspect that will be important will be the mental toughness. They will be facing so many higher-ranked teams in the tournament and not getting too bogged down by the challenge will be key for India who I feel have it in them to make it to the quarter-finals,” he added.
India are in a tough group alongside Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and South Africa. All teams apart from South Africa are ranked above India. So their best bet to qualify for the quarter-finals would be to beat Ireland who are ranked just a place above them. The two sides had met in the 2018 World Cup quarter-finals where Ireland had won in the shootout.
India's group at Tokyo 2020
|Netherlands||July 24, 2021||5:15 PM IST|
|Germany||July 26, 2021||5:45 PM IST|
|Great Britain||July 28, 2021||6:30 AM IST|
|Ireland||July 30, 2021||8:15 AM IST|
|South Africa||July 31, 2021||8:45 AM IST|
Full schedule available here.
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