The last time the Indian senior women’s hockey team faced Argentina was in the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics. They lost by a 2-1 scoreline but won massive respect, not just of fans and followers of the sport in the country, but also their opponents on that day. The 2016 champions and eventual 2021 runners-up knew they had been in a proper fight and the result could have easily gone either way till the very last moments in the game.

Since that day in Tokyo, to the upcoming weekend in Rotterdam, Netherlands, India will step on to the field with some pressure. It won’t necessarily be the pressure of winning the matches against Argentina, but just the pressure of turning around the quality of their performances in the FIH Pro League after coming off consecutive defeats against Belgium.

Argentina, on the other hand, will step on to the field with almost no stress because, they were already assured of the title on Saturday. While Argentina tops the table with 38 points in 14 matches, India is currently placed at the third position in the points table with 22 points in 10 games.

While winning the Pro League title itself wasn’t the top of the priority list for coach Janneke Schopman and her players, the double-header against Belgium last week saw India lose by a 2-1 and 5-0 scoreline has indeed left the players and management disappointed.

During both the matches, Schopman had reiterated that the defence was not quite up to the mark and captain and goalkeeper Savita Punia agreed with the assessment and mentioned that as one of the key-areas the team was working on during the high intensity training sessions ahead of the Argentina tie.

Speaking ahead of the weekend games, Savita Punia also admitted that the present situation probably means there could be added pressure on individuals to perform exceedingly well before the teams for the Women’s FIH World Cup and Commonwealth Games are announced. And while she believes that it could have played a minor role in their performances against Belgium, she did not claim the matches in Antwerp were affected by rustiness that could be attributed to the two-month gap.

“I think when one starts thinking about the result before the match takes place is the point where they lose it,” Savita said. “So I just told everyone ‘don’t think about what’s going to happen, instead of that think about the opportunity you have been given and look to play today’s game the best way you can instead of thinking about the selection for future’. It is easier said than done, but that’s what as a captain I will tell my players.”

India would have to keep their heads held high and back themselves as the situation now demands the team to churn out improved performances in a bid to prepare for the back-to-back major tournaments in July and August.

Meanwhile, Argentina, who are yet to be defeated in the league, not only have the advantage of current form but also have the head-to-head against India in their favour. Their overall domination in the league is also indicated by the stat that they are top goal scoring team (37) and one with the most penalty corner goals (16) in the tournament. Additionally, Argentina’s Agustina Gorzelany with 8 goals and Granatta Maria with 6 goals are the second and third-leading goal scorers in the league.

Who’s saying what

Captain Savita Punia:

“Our preparations are going on well. We had two great training sessions and everyone has focused on improving their game. There was disappointment in our performances but we had sessions to address these issues. We are looking forward to our matches against Argentina and looking to perform as a team and as individuals. We are quite confident ahead of the matches as we played a good game against Argentina in the Semi-Final of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”

“We are working on improving our execution with regards to Penalty Corners. During our practice sessions, the players trained with the best mindset and worked on earning Penalty Corners and executing shots on goal. Hopefully, the players will improve upon executing Penalty Corners in our upcoming matches as well.”

Vice captain Deep Grace Ekka:

“We have learned a lot about our own games during our practice sessions after our matches against Belgium. We have corrected the mistakes we made in our previous matches and we are fully prepared for our next challenge.”

“When I had first joined the team, my seniors had told me to just replicate whatever I was doing during practice. So even I tell the same thing to the young players in our team. And the more we keep things simple, the better it is for us. Before we receive the ball, we should be aware about where our team members are standing so that we can pass the ball quickly.”

India squad:

Savita Punia (C) (GK), Bichu Devi Kharibam (GK), Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjit Kaur, Nikki Pradhan, Udita, Akshata, Abaso Dhekale, Nisha, Salima Tete, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Jyoti, Monika, Neha, Navjot Kaur, Sonika, Rajwinder Kaur, Sharmila Devi, Navneet Kaur, Lalremsiami, Sangita Kumari, Mariana Kujur, Deepika.

FIH Pro League Schedule for India women’s hockey team:

June 18, Saturday: India vs Argentina

June 19, Sunday: India vs Argentina

June 21, Tuesday: USA vs India

June 22, Wednesday: USA vs India

Argentina squad:

Succi Belen, Toccalino Sofia, Gorzelany Agustina, Cairo Sofia, Alonso Agostina, Albertarrio Agustina, Merino Delfina, Granatto Maria, Cosentino Cristina, Trinchinetti Eugenia, Retegui Micaela, Di Santo Celina, Cedres Jimena, Jankunas Julieta, Miranda Victoria, Triñanes Martina, Marcucci Valentina, Costa Valentina, Bruggesser Brisa, Cerundolo María, Thome Delfina, Forcherio Maria, Pagella Sol, Lombardo Maria Sol, Pacheco Daiana, Pineda Mariana, Perez Lourdes

FIH Pro League Schedule for Argentina women’s hockey team:

June 18, Saturday: Argentina vs India

June 19, Sunday: Argentina vs India

The double-header between India Women’s Hockey Team vs Argentina will be played on June 18 and June 19 at 1730 hrs IST. The matches will be telecast Live on Star Sports First and Disney+ Hotstar.