CHENNAI: The past few years have seen a tremendous improvement in the Indian women’s hockey team. They qualified for the Olympics after 36 years in Rio last year, while also claiming the Asian Champions Trophy title soon after. And the aim is to build on that this year.
“It’s an important year, and our first aim is to win the World League Round 2 so that we qualify for Round 3. From there, the aim is to qualify for next year’s Senior Women’s World Cup, and not wait for the Asia Cup to do so. We have four players who have already played that event and we want the entire team to play the World Cup next year. We definitely want to qualify before the Asia Cup, so that we don’t play with any added pressure,” striker Rani Rampal told Express.
Currently preparing for the World League Round 2 to be held in West Vancouver from April 1 to 9, the main talking point has been the return of star midfielder Ritu Rani, who will also be captain the squad. “Her return is good. It’s not just about her, but having any senior player with that kind of experience is more than an advantage for us, as youngsters will get to learn from them and stay motivated,” she added.
New coach Sjoerd Marijne will play an integral to their quest in climbing up the rankings. “Everyone was excited when told the new coaches will be from Holland. They’re No 1 in the world right now, and we’re excited to learn from them. We’re No 12 right now and know we can climb up by learning from them. They work a lot on individual skills, and I personally feel we’re progressing rapidly as a unit under Marijne and Eric (Wonink, who took over as analytical coach).”
The road to the 2018 World Cup, to be held in London from July 7 to 21, has also started. And the Champions Trophy victory was a big confidence-booster. “It was a big, important win for us. We didn’t do well in the Olympics (finishing 12th), and to bring back that confidence it was important we won the event. We knew we had to first dominate the Asian level before making our mark at the world level,” the 22-year-old noted. Speaking of the Olympics, Rani revealed it was an unsatisfactory result for the women. “It was disappointing that we couldn’t make our first appearance memorable. But we can’t deny it was a great learning experience. We got to see first-hand how big the event was, and how we needed to handle pressure in a better way. We got to witness and learn how we had to stick to our basics, despite large crowds in the stadium, which can be intimidating.
“With this learning experience, we now know how we must approach our matches in this new Olympic cycle, and I’m sure this will help us do much better in Tokyo 2020,” she concluded.