After a successful tour to Spain, the captain of the Indian women’s hockey team Rani Rampal has stated that the team is focussed on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics to be held in 2020. The Indian team will start its Olympic qualification matches in Japan’s Hiroshima from June 23 this year.
After the successful 2018, the Indian women started the new year on a high with a tour to Spain under the guidance of head coach Sjoerd Marijne. They drew the four-match test series against the home team while managed to win the series against World Cup runners-up Ireland 1-0. Playing in the absence of skipper Rampal in the last two games of the tour, India drew the first game against the Irish team and won 3-0 in the second match.
Rampal, who had to miss the last two matches after sustaining a shoulder strain, is not a part of the Indian Railways team in the Senior Women National Championship starting from Friday because of her injury. Meanwhile, the Indian captain is satisfied with the performance by the girls in all the six matches of the tour and expects them to carry on the same momentum during the Olympic qualifiers those are scheduled later this year.
“The team played really well in the tour and showed improvement after each and every match. It was a consistent performance by the team and we want to keep growing as a unit. After a long time, the team is continuously doing well and our next target is Olympic qualification. We are all set to do well in the qualifying events,” Rampal told SportsCafe during an exclusive interview.
The Indian women’s team, which had played only in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, qualified for the Rio Games in 2016 ending a 36-year drought. Although the side finished 12th in Rio de Janeiro, the team has grown leaps and bounds since then. The previous year, which saw the men’s team losing to Malaysia in the Asian Games semi-final and to The Netherlands in the World Cup quarter-final at home, was a successful one for the women. They made it to the finals of the Asiad after 20 years but lost to Japan in the final in Jakarta. In the Commonwealth Games and the Women’s World Cup last year, India qualified for the semifinals and the quarters respectively which was their best show after a long time in those events as well.
“I think, after the Rio Olympics we have done really well in major events. That was the first time that we played at the Olympics and we got to learn a lot. Despite the poor result in Rio, our team has improved a lot.
“Playing together for a long time has certainly helped us a lot. We all have a very good understanding with each other. Most of the senior members have been playing together for a while and this helps a lot in our game,” the Indian forward explained.
With an aim of making it to the Olympics, India will play the FIH Series Finals in Hiroshima, Japan in June. They will take on Chile, Fiji, Mexico, Poland, Russia and Uruguay, and hosts Japan and they have to finish inside top two in the FIH Series Finals to make it to the final qualification tournament to be held later this year.
The skipper wants to take one game at a time with the complete focus on the qualification. “We will take one match at a time in the qualification tournaments first in June and then in November to get into the Tokyo Olympics. There is no particular team to keep an eye in the qualifications; we will focus on our own performance as our quality of hockey will matter. We are not going to bother about what the opponents do.”
Defender Sunita Lakra and Midfielders Namita Toppo, and Monika missed out on the tour to Spain after sustaining injuries. However, their absence from the side gave an opportunity to the youngsters to put up an impressive performance against Spain and Ireland.
“2-3 players were injured like Sunita Lakra, Namita Toppo
Sjoerd Marijne was appointed as the head coach of the women’s team in May last year after the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. The Dutchman has been at the helm of the team for a while now and according to Rampal, his impact has been instrumental in the team’s success as well. Hockey India is also focussed in giving more number of matches for the Indian women ahead of the major qualification matches so that they get enough match practice at this time of the year. Most of the members of the senior team are either playing in the Senior Women National Championship or in India A’s four-match series against France A both starting from Friday.
“The coach is working hard for our team and he is doing really well. Assistant coach Erik Wonnink and the entire support staff including the physio and the scientific adviser are constantly working to ensure that we remain fit and free from injuries.”
“I think playing regular games keep the players in rhythm. India A will play against the France A team as well. Hockey India and SAI are doing a commendable job in giving us a chance to play continuously so that the girls get proper exposure and the rhythm of the players is not broken. I am really thankful to the officials for this,” the Haryana-born forward concluded.
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