Asia Cup Hockey: Holders India look to continue momentum after Olympic high

Muscat, Jan 20: The Indian women’s hockey team will look to carry on the momentum from the historic Tokyo Olympic campaign when it opens its title defence against Malaysia in the Asia Cup here on Friday.

The Indian women recorded their best-ever Olympic result after finishing fourth in Tokyo last year, narrowly missing out on a podium.

The Savita Punia-led side, the most experienced in the tournament, will now be hoping to use that experience to good effect in its first major event after the Olympics.

Goalkeeper Savita will lead the side in the absence of Rani Rampal, who has been rested to recover from a hamstring injury.

Savita has admitted that India’s experience will be key to the team’s success at the prestigious quadrennial tournament, which is also a qualifying event for this year’s FIH Women’s World Cup, to be co-hosted by Spain and Netherlands.

“The best part about this team is that, many of us have been playing together for a long time and I feel this experience and team camaraderie will give us the edge over other teams.

“Our main priority will be to remain focused on our game and ensure we execute the plans against each team without making errors,” Savita said on the eve of their opener.

The defending champions are grouped in Pool A along with Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

After Malaysia, the Indians will play against Japan on Sunday before squaring off against Singapore in their final pool game on January 24.

The Indian skipper also emphasised on the need to make a positive start to the tournament.

“We have played Malaysia quite a few times in the past and they are a good side. Doing well against them will give us the right start to the tournament,” Savita said.

“As a team, we believe in focusing on our own game and not worry too much about what the opponent team can or cannot do. We just want to play to our strength.”

The Tokyo campaign has also been instrumental in instilling a ‘never-give-up’ attitude in the players.

“One of the good qualities of the team is that we have learnt to fight till the end. We don’t give up if we are down by a few goals. I feel these aspects will matter when we play quality teams in an important tournament like this where qualification for FIH Women’s World Cup is at stake,” Savita said.

Going by form, India are expected to top their pool. The top two teams from both the pools will qualify for the semifinals to be played on January 26 followed by the summit clash on January 28.

Technically, the Indian women won’t be playing their first competition post the Tokyo Olympics as they had travelled to Donghae, Korea for the Asian Champions Trophy a couple of months ago but were forced to withdraw after just one match due to positive COVID positive cases in the squad.

From that point of view, the Asia Cup will be the first big assignment for new chief coach Janneke Schopman, who was the technical analyst with the side in Tokyo under Sjoerd Marijne.

The Asia Cup will also kick start a busy calendar for India in which they will feature in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, Asia Games in Hangzhou, China, which is a qualifying tournament for the 2024 Paris Olympics, besides making their debut in the FIH Pro League.

In the other match of Pool A on Friday, Japan will play Singapore while in Pool B, South Korea face Indonesia and China take on Thailand. (PTI)