One of the most experienced players in the Indian women’s hockey team goalkeeper Savita Punia is confident that they will qualify for their second consecutive Olympics. The women’s team will be up against the USA while the men’s team will take on Russia in their respective Tokyo Olympics qualifiers.
Goalkeeper of the India women’s hockey team Savita Punia is one of the most experienced players in the team, however, she knows a thing or two about momentary lapses and heartbreaks, especially in front of a home crowd. She was a part of the national team which lost the London Olympics qualifier 1-3 to South Africa in New Delhi and therefore, losing their chance to book a 2012 Olympics spot.
“We have no place to hide. A momentary lapse from our end can change the fortunes of the team,” Savita said to the TNN.
Up against the USA in the 2020 Olympics qualifier, which is a team known as much for its physical game as skill, Savita says the Rani Rampal-led unit is confident and better prepared this time to face the acid test at home.
“We are confident of making it to our second consecutive Olympics. This time, the format for qualification is different and we'll have to play the same team twice to seal our Tokyo berth. While we work around strategies keeping strengths and weaknesses of the opposition in mind, irrespective of who we play, we need to focus on ourselves and the processes we have to follow.”
While facing the USA, ranked 13th in the world, just four places behind India, is one part of the challenge, while playing in front of the home crowd, for the first time since the Hockey World League Round 2 in 2015, can be tense. Recalling the 2012 failure, the 28-year-old from Jodhkan village in Haryana points out that “it was a different ball game,” they were a young team under a lot of pressure. Savita explained that the team overall is better prepared as the individuals have learned to be responsible through experience.
She credits Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, the chief coach, for the change in attitude through his motivational team talks.
“The coach has helped us realign our focus. For example, at the World Cup in London last year, when we were up against the hosts, there were 10,000 spectators. Before the match, the coach asked each one of us what we saw in the stadium. Our responses varied from the size of the stadium to the number of people in the stands. That’s when he told us, our focus should not leave the ground and the only people we see have to be the 21 other players on the pitch,” explains Savita.
Earlier this month, the team toured England as part of their preparations for the qualifiers, where it won and lost a match each and drew the remaining three. Savita believes the experience will hold the team in good stead against an opposition known to come good under pressure.
She feels there is an added advantage of playing at the same venue as the men’s team as both teams will assemble in Bhubaneswar to give flight to their Tokyo dreams, “I know the men’s team will be busy with their preparations, but just the fact that they are around us is a huge confidence booster. Particularly for me, I’ve always looked up to Sreejesh bhai, who is always on hand to offer suggestions and a word of encouragement.”