The Indian Women's Hockey Team is set to take on the World No. 1 the Netherlands in their next set of FIH Hockey Pro League matches which takes place on April 8 and 9 at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium. Captain Savita expressed excitement at the prospect of facing the Olympic Champs in double-header.
"Our team is really excited to face the Netherlands. It doesn't really matter if they have come without experienced players because it won't change their style of play. They have come with a young team, but that doesn't mean they will take things casually. Their young players have been given chance, so I think they will certainly give their best. Our approach will remain the same as always and we will focus on ourselves," Savita said.
The last time both teams faced each other was during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in their group stage match where India lost 1-5 and the Netherlands went on to win the Olympic Gold medal. "It's great that we are getting a chance to play the Netherlands again that too at our home, so of course, we will give our best and enjoy the matches," Savita stated.
"We will be facing them for the first time since the Olympics. We have been training hard every day in this heat, so will hopefully do well in both the matches," the Indian Women's Team Vice-Captain Deep Grace Ekka added.
Hosts India is currently placed fourth on the points table, with 12 points. They started their campaign with wins against China (7-1 and 2-1) in Muscat followed by a 2-1 win and a 3-4 loss against Spain in February 2022 at home and in their last outing, they registered a 1-1 (1-2 SO) loss and a 1-1 (3-0 SO) win against Germany.
Reflecting on the campaign so far ace Goalkeeper Savita said, "Earlier, we hardly used to get to play against top teams. We haven't played continuous matches against such teams before, and that's the best thing about Pro League. These matches are helping us improve. You know, it's a sort of achievement that the teams are willing to play against us. It gives us motivation and also shows that we stand somewhere in the world."
She further added, "Of course, points are important for us because we want to finish in a good position so that we again get a chance to play in Pro League because it will help us in preparations for the Paris Olympics. However, with various major tournaments lined up, our focus has been to improve match by match, and just enjoy our game."
The Netherlands, on the other hand, are currently on the top of the pool table with 17 points. In their six matches so far, they beat Belgium 2-0 and 3-1 in October and November last year followed by 1-0 and 2-2 (3-2 SO) wins against Spain in February and earlier this month, they registered 3-0 and 10-0 wins against the USA.
Speaking on the eve of the first match, Netherlands Interim Coach Joost Bitterling said, "I think for young girls, it's a dream to play in this kind of stadium, in this kind of game, so they are really excited. I am also excited, a little bit nervous at the same time, but it is fine because, at the end, this is what we do, this is what we love. The players and I are really looking forward to it, and curious about what we can achieve."
"India is a skillful team, with a very good Coach. They have grown their level and I think this is a nice opportunity for us to play against India and try to win these kinds of games the way we want," Bitterling added.
Speaking about the team's preparedness, the Netherlands Captain Yibbi Jansen said, "Last weekend we played the USA, so that was our preparation for this week. We have come with a younger team, we had our first training session today, and it felt really good to train and play in such a big stadium. So, we are just ready for the matches."
Meanwhile, the Dutch Coach added," We also have a few young girls with us, who trained separately from the group which played against the USA. Hopefully, tomorrow we try to get it together, and just looking forward to the matches." When asked about how the team is dealing with the hot weather conditions, Renée van Laarhove, who will lead the Netherlands in one of the two matches, said "We just had the first training to experience the heat and of course, it's a bit different to the weather in the Netherlands. We just use cold wet towels and drink a lot to keep ourselves cool during matches. We don't have days to prepare and it will be challenging for us, but we will do fine. We have played in Argentina before where the conditions were similar."
"We cannot change it. So, it is what it is, and we have to accept it because at the end we have to play and it doesn't matter what the weather conditions are," Bitterling concluded.