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FIH Olympic Qualifiers | Deep Grace Ekka targets Olympic qualification in home conditions

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Hockey India

FIH Olympic Qualifiers | Deep Grace Ekka targets Olympic qualification in home conditions

Senior defender of the Indian women’s hockey team Deep Grace Ekka has a target of taking her team in the Tokyo Olympics via the FIH Olympic Qualifiers in Bhubaneswar. Ekka has expressed her excitement of playing in front of an energetic and passionate hockey crowd at her home venue.

The Indian women’s team is all set to take on the United States of America (USA) side in the two FIH Olympic Qualifiers games on November 1 and 2. This will be the first time since the FIH World League Round 2 back in 2013 that the women’s team will play competitive hockey matches in India. And for Odisha girl Deep Grace Ekka, it is even more exciting as she will play for her country for the first time at the Kalinga Stadium.

Ekka, who recently got to the milestone of 200 international caps, talked about the crucial matches against the USA in an exclusive interview and said that she is going to be calm despite the pressure against a fast-moving USA forward line.

“I am really delighted as we watched the men’s World Cup matches which were played here. We all wanted to play here in Bhubaneswar. Now, this is the time when we can play here. There is always a good crowd here and they will definitely back us,” Ekka told SportsCafe.

“USA strikers have a good speed and they have decent skills inside the striking circle as well. I have planned to stay calm and composed inside the D and I will try my best to stop them.”

USA are placed at the 13th place on the FIH rankings list but the Indian women, who are ninth, will not take them lightly in the two games. Explaining the mindset of the Indian women, Ekka stated, “USA is also a good team. We can’t say that they are a weak side or are below us on the FIH rankings list. We are focussing on us and our game before the match. Our main target is to perform well match by match and qualify for the Olympics.”

The 25-year-old defender has been a part of the core group of players for a long time now. She had made her debut back in 2011 during a four-nation tournament in Argentina. Some of the senior players like skipper Rani Rampal have been around as well and they all are playing together for a long time now. Ekka discussed the camaraderie in the team ahead of crucial tie against the USA. 

 © Hockey India

“There are players from different states but we have been together for a long time now. We know each other and we play together. We motivate each other and players like Rani Rampal also guides us and she has the experience behind her. I get a lot to learn from other players as well,” explained the senior defender.

She is not the only girl from Odisha though. The team also has two more senior names in the midfield - Namita Toppo and Lilima Minz - who also hail from the hockey heartland of Sundergarh and will play at their home venue for the first time in their international career. Speaking about the combination between them, Ekka mentioned, “We have a very good understanding with each other as well. Namita (Toppo) had an injury but now she is fit and is eager to perform for the team.”

Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne joined the Indian women’s team as their chief coach in 2017. However, he was taken to the helm of the men’s team for a brief period after that. But, when Harendra Singh took over the Indian men’s side, Marijne came back to take charge of the women again in May 2018. Almost all the players in the team have now played and trained under the Dutch coach’s guidance and Ekka feels that Marijne has the skill to keep the players motivated ahead of their crucial games.

“Sjoerd sir knows how to motivate the players and that is his speciality. He talks to each and every player in the team ahead of our matches,” said Ekka.

Ekka was a part of the national side when they made it to the Rio Olympics after a long gap of 36 years. Indian women have progressed a lot since then and their performance in many tournaments are a testimony to the fact that they have improved a lot. The defender from Odisha also highlighted the changes that have taken place in the women’s hockey in the country.

“In 2016, we qualified for the Olympics but didn’t have a lot of experience. Now, a lot of things have changed. Practice sessions, style of playing the game, fitness and all, a lot have changed since the Rio Olympics,” Ekka signed off.

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