Jakarta: Bravado or big talk apart, Indian women hockey team will have to raise their game a few notches above the usual if they want to finish atop the podium in the 18th Asian Games and book a ticket for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
India, placed No 9 in FIH ranking face lowly 64th ranked host Indonesia, in their opening Pool ‘B’ match here on Sunday.
It has been long wait for the Indian women to regain the gold which they had won when the sport made its debut in 1982 Asian Games Delhi and after that it was only in 1998 that they managed a second place finish.
It is not just India which is eyeing the gold and ticket to Tokyo. Korea, China and Japan are equal contenders given that host do not get automatic entry in Olympics.
India will face their toughest test in the league stage against Korea on August 25 after having played Kazakhstan on August 21 before concluding their Pool engagement with a clash against Thailand on August 27.
The much hyped talk of India having finished eighth in the just-concluded World Cup at London hides one fact that the Rani Rampal-led team won only one match there and in the crunch twice lost to lowly-ranked Ireland.
Also, understandably two other Asian teams in the fray there in London-China and Korea-had not sent their full strength team as they were concentrating on Asian Games for obvious reasons.
The powers to be at Hockey India tried to glorify the team’s performance at London and emotional saying it was heart breaking to see the girls in blue lose to Ireland in the crucial match.
There was nothing sentimental about the World Cup defeat. Ireland displayed will-power and nerve of steel at the vital moments, while Indian resistance collapsed.
Indian team is perhaps the most widely travelled side in this competition so the girls cannot make any excuse regarding lack of international exposure or facilities.
Here they have every chance to make it to the last four but again finishing second is no option because that will mean missing the direct qualification for Tokyo. They will have to go flat out for the title.
Asian Games campaign is a tough assignment for Dutch coach Sjoerd Marijne and it remains to be seen how he will guide the girls in this crucial tournament.
Rani Rampal has talked about her wish to be on the top of the podium with tricolour and Marijne has exuded confidence about the girls performing well this time, but that is possible only if the players come up with something extraordinary.
Indians will have to convert even half chances and penalty corners because at this level where the stakes are high there is no scope for error of muffing up chances.
Coach Marijne and manager Kumar have repeatedly stated that are not taking even lowly Indonesia lightly. “We are focused and the girls have their task cut out and I hope that they will achieve the desired result.
Former National Sports Editor of UNI writes for Sakal Times