Jakarta: Indian women hockey team has tryst with history as they take on World No 14 Japan to regain a gold, which they last won 36 years back.
Indian women’s campaign has been very impressive so far as they have recorded big wins victories against Indonesia (8-0), Kazakhstan (21-0), Korea (4-1) and Thailand (5-0) in the Pool stages and battled it out for a 1-0 win against a resilient Chinese team in the semi-final.
Indian defence in their five matches so far has been very dominating as they have conceded only once in 300 minutes of hockey, which was through a Penalty Stroke against Republic of Korea.
Deep Grace Ekka, Deepika, Gurjit Kaur, Sunita Lakra and youngster Reena Khokhar have been outstanding.
However, Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne was of the view that it is collective performance that matters.
“We have been good in defence throughout the tournament and have been excellent with the tackling. The only goal we conceded was against a strong team like Korea and that gives me and the girls huge confidence going into the final against Japan.”
“We have defended well as a unit with everyone executing their duties and it gives us a solid foundation in all the matches.” World No 9 India became the highest ranked Asian team in the world after their quarterfinal finish at the recent Women’s World Cup and captain Rani Rampal exuded confidence of booking the ticket for 2020 Tokyo Olympics by winning the gold on Friday.
“The final match against Japan will be exciting for sure but we are determined to give everything on the pitch to win the match. The team knows that they came here to only achieve one thing, and that is qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Therefore, we will make sure that we play like the best team in Asia and work hard to achieve our goal.”
Indian strikers spearheaded by the experienced Vandana Katariya and Rani has also been in prime form throughout the tournament, scoring a total of 39 goals in the five matches that they have played.
The team will be hoping that Navneet Kaur, Navjot Kaur and Lalremsiami will deliver again as they look to win only their second gold medal in Asian Games after having won just one gold, one silver and three bronze medals in their nine previous appearances.
“It’s not going to be an easy match against Japan. They are growing as a team and being the host of the Olympics in 2020, they would like to finish on top in the Asian Games. But we need to play our best hockey tomorrow to stop them from winning,” said the coach.
“In fact, our girls should pick up the best things from the match against China. What we did to dominate in the remaining two quarters of the game. In the locker room, I told the girls that this is one of the best moments of your life and you have to show courage,” said Marijne.
“We have played Japan in the past and we know that they are a strong side. They have played well in this tournament and deserve to be in the final. But I believe we have the quality and confidence to beat any team in the world. Therefore, it is important that we stick to our game-plan and concentrate on producing the kind of performance which is worthy of being the champions,” he added.
Rani Rampal, who is yet to recover from niggling injuries to her shoulder and ankle, will have to be at her best among the forwards on Friday.
“Yes, there are small issues about my fitness, but they are nothing to worry about. We all have to play our best hockey as this is a big opportunity to make it to the 2020 Olympics.”
She also defended the players’ tendency to dribble and rely on individual ability. “Dribbling is in our blood as we have been playing this style of hockey since childhood. The coach wants us to play ‘give and go hockey’ and we are trying to adapt,” she said.
This will be India’s second gold medal match at the Asian Games, having lost their 1998 final 1-2 to South Korea.
Former National Sports Editor of UNI writes for Sakal Times