Sjoerd Marijne is a happy man. His team is one step closer to the Olympic dream after winning the FIH Series Finals. India have qualified for the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers scheduled to be held later this year.
While the team’s performance was certainly pleasing and qualifying for Tokyo Games looks like a realistic goal, Marijne is looking forward to the Olympic qualifiers for one other reason.
The women’s team last played in front of their home crowd more than two years ago. In March 2017, India hosted Belarus for test matches and there have been no home games after that.
So with the possibility of the qualifiers being held at home, Marijne is happy that the girls will finally be able to play in front with the crowd cheering them.
“The possibility is very high that we will be playing home for the qualifiers,” Marijne said. “That is a good thing. These girls do not play at home often and they do not have the privilege like the men’s team does who do play.
“They will think about that moment for the rest of their lives. They will inspire women and girls in Bhubaneswar.”
But the coach knows that playing at home adds to the pressure and there is no way to stop it but play good hockey.
“We keep training and improving. We improve in one day after the semi-final against Chile. Playing at home is I think an advantage.”
India did well to handle the pressure in Hiroshima during the FIH Series Finals. India were the top-ranked team of the tournament and were expected to make it to the finals. They did it by beating Chile in the semi-final. But that was not the perfect team.
“A few games were against low ranked teams and we were not in the rhythm of the tournament,” Marijne said. “The most important was the semi-final and they had nerves. The first quarter wasn’t great but we can do much better. The nerves disappeared in the final and we played well.”
In the FIH Series Finals, India were dominant throughout the pool stages. After seeing off Uruguay, Fiji, and Poland, they beat Chile 4-2 in the semi-final before beating the hosts Japan 3-1 in the final.
The match against Chile was a scare for India. Chile opened the scoring in the 18th minute. But India bounced back and took the game. It was the boost they needed.
“I was happy with the comeback but not how we started. The level went too low and we cannot allow that. We need to have a basic level, all the players should maintain that,” said Marijne.
Marijne added: “We controlled the final match. That’s something we have to keep on working on. It’s a mental thing. With skills, you keep training and training. The power of repetition helps. Mental is not like that. Now, they have the experience of playing difficult teams and winning which is a boost for the team.”
It was a big win for India against Japan who they had lost in the Asian Games and the memories were haunting the Indian players. Marijne knew that he cannot change the past so he decided to cheer up the girls.
“We cannot change the past of losing against Japan in an important match. But we can change the future and they did it very well. I showed them some clips of Bhubaneswar of world league finals. The crowd was cheering,” he said.
Apart from the lucky Japan goal, India dominated the game. The defence made the major difference in the game. India were far superior in keeping the Japan forwards away.
All three Indian goals were scored via penalty corners and the coach says it is one of the things they need to continue doing.
“How Gurjit is doing [converting PCs], there is no worry. The thing is to maintain the scoring. There should be quality to do it at the right moment,” he said.
Gurjit scored the most goals in the tournament. In the semi-finals, she scored a hat-trick and later two more against Japan, all five PCs. Her style made it difficult for the opposition goalkeepers to stop the drag. Most of them found the top corners.
“The way she did it in the semis and final, not many girls can do that,” he said.
But with Olympic qualifiers approaching in October-November, Marijne wants to start again. He doesn’t want to do anything new but continue what they did in Hiroshima. The ability to take the initiative is one thing on his list.
“Maybe we could have taken the initiative in the semi-final but otherwise it was okay. The final was very good. We could have scored more but Japan is strong. If we improve the beginning, it will be great,” he said.
The Indian team will be back in Bangalore for the national camp from July 8. The preparations begin without any delay.
“We are in the pool with China, USA, Chile. To prepare, we have some pre-Olympic events and I think Australia will be there. We will go to England. We will do everything to be prepared so during the competition, we will be prepared and not say we lacked somewhere.”