India women’s coach Sjoerd Marijne has had a turbulent month. He was effectively blamed for the poor show by the men’s team at the Commonwealth Games in Australia last month and re-assigned as coach of the women’s team a post he had vacated only five months ago.

In what is likely to be termed a demotion by many Hockey India officials, Marijne had a point to prove. Sadly, it did not pan out as he would have hoped.

While India did make the final, they would feel hard done by the result as they were the defending champions and facing an opposition in the final which isn’t much higher in the rankings than them. India lost 1-0 to South Korea, who are ranked a spot higher than them.

First test

With regular skipper Rani Rampal and first choice striker Poonam Rani and defender Sushila Chanu rested, India were never expected to waltz through the tournament. However, a loss holds significance, especially for Marijne as he is obviously under some scrutiny.

With Hockey India keeping an eye on the team’s performance, the Dutchman has clearly begun on the wrong note.

Marijne met the squad the day they were scheduled to leave for Korea, which was May 8. He had left for Netherlands after the Commonwealth Games to be with his family as his future was under the scanner. He arrived late due to visa issues and got to work with the women’s team only in Korea.

Hence, the duration for the team to make a transition to Marijne’s style of play was not sufficient. “I saw the team in the airport so there was no time for me to train with them. I am happy Erik Wonink (assistant coach) kept playing in the same structure what we implemented 7 months ago so that made it easier to help them. We now have a short break and then we can train together for improvements,” Marijne told The Field.

Lack of finishing and defensive lapses 

A major problem that was visible against Korea in the final was the lack of chances created by the team. Against the likes of China, Malaysia and Japan, India scored a total of 10 goals. But against Korea, in the two matches that they played, India managed to score only 1 goal in their round robin match that ended in a draw.

“Yes it was close in the end but we didn’t create enough today. The team worked hard but it was difficult to reach the strikers today. Unfortunately we didn’t get a PC decision towards the end, but that’s sport,” said Marijne.

Marijne also added that excess use of long balls to create chances was not required with the Korean players marking every Indian player. “There needed to be a back-up plan when this is happening and that will be one of the topics for the next camp,” he said.

Even the defense against Korea was not up to the mark with the likes Deep Grace Ekka and Lakra committing fouls that resulted in PCs for Korea. However, goalkeeper Savita Punia stepped up and made spectacular saves. However, the Dutchman said that it was a collective failure and they will address this issue once they are back at camp.

“It’s not easy playing against a full strength Korea side with experienced strikers. We struggled more compared to the other matches. However, you defend with the whole team so that’s what we have to improve with the whole team and not only defenders,” said Marijne.

Looking ahead 

The next two months are going to be crucial for the women’s team as they will compete in the World Cup in London and then the Asian Games a week later. Marijne has his task cut out for him.

“We played good matches in this tournament against full squads and that will give the team confidence that we can beat anyone. The mood is good but the girls also realise that we can improve in certain areas. They are very driven to improve themselves,” said Marijne.

The team will return to India and assemble in Bengaluru after a five-day break. They will then train for two weeks and then leave for their Tour of Spain where they will play five practice games.

“We will train for two weeks before we go to London. After the World Cup, there is no time for training because we immediately have to go to the Asian Games,” said Marijne.

Clearly, time is not a luxury for Marijne and the India women’s team.