All international women’s hockey attention will be riveted on the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in London, as it gears up to host the 14th Women’s FIH World Cup from July 21 to August 5. The Netherlands – the world’s top-ranked side - will undoubtedly be the runaway favourites. They not only carry the ‘defending champions’ tag but also have consistently maintained a stranglehold over the marquee event having won it as many as seven times – more than half of all the Women World Cups held so far, and have also been runners-up four times as well.
A look at the opponents
The Dutch women have played in every World Cup final since the 1998 edition at Utrecht, and have been the most dominant side in the world – they have been Olympic champions thrice besides winning the EuroHockey Nations Championship a mammoth nine times. Save for the 2016 Rio Olympics final, where they lost to Great Britain in a shootout after being locked 3-3 in regulation time; the Dutch girls have towered over their international opponents.
World number two and hosts England will be keyed up to build on their 2016 Olympic gold-winning performance and backed by home crowd support, they can harbour hopes of breaching the Dutch supremacy in London. Argentina and Australia are also high-quality teams that pack enough ammunition to make their World Cup journey an highly exciting one.The Dutch women have played in every World Cup final since the 1998 edition at Utrecht, and have been the most dominant side in the world
Hosts England or Great Britain will be backed by home crowd support; they can harbour hopes of going the distance. Olympic bronze medallist Germany and USA, who finished fourth at the last World Cup, are also teams that can upset the applecart of any side. New Zealand – a semifinalist at the 2016 Olympics, is also a quality side but can be guilty of being grossly inconsistent – they possess abundant flair in their ranks but can look ordinary at times. China may be ranked 8th in the world and do not grab media attention because they do not have win medals in World Cups or Olympics but ask any opposition, and they will tell you that the Chinese are a tough nut to crack. China is known to cause upsets in big-ticket events and any team confronting them will be at their peril if they take them lightly.
From the Indian perspective
There is a positive buzz about the Rani Rampal-led side – the Blueskirts will be not short on confidence if their recent international performances are anything to go by. A 4th place finish at the 2018 Commonwealth Games was undoubtedly a dampener given the potential this team possesses, but let us not forget the fact that this same team quickly got the better of quality sides like Japan and China in the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy before settling for the runners-up trophy, losing to South Korea in a tight final contest.There is a positive buzz about the Rani Rampal-led side – the Blueskirts will be not short on confidence if their recent international performances are anything to go by
Overall, the women’s team have moved away from being the ‘whipping girls’ of international hockey. There was a time when their lack of fitness and tactical play were brutally exposed in many international events - the most prominent being the 2016 Rio Olympics, where they had qualified for the first time – a tournament where they were handed 1-6 and 0-5 defeats by Australia and Argentina apart from the 0-3 losses inflicted by Great Britain and the USA.
The Indian eves’ best showing at the World Cup came in the inaugural 1974 edition in Mandelieu, France, where they reached the semifinals. A solitary goal defeat in the last four stage against Germany saw them face up Argentina in the 3/4th place play-off tie – a contest in which the Indian girls went down 0-2 to finish a creditable fourth. Since the inaugural World Cup, India have managed to qualify for the World Cup only five times – 1978, 1983, 1998, 2006 and 2010 and they have missed out on World Cup qualification on as many as 8 occasions – there was a period when Indian girls struggled to qualify for the World Cup for a lengthy15-year period between 1983 and 1998.
The Indian team have a fair mix of experience and youth.
In goalkeeper Savita, they have one player who stands like a rock in the cage. The defence has experienced campaigners like Deepika, who is the only player other than skipper Rani Rampal to have featured in a World Cup before, Deep Grace Ekka and Sunita Lakra and talented drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur.
The midfield has the likes of energetic Namita Toppo, Navjot Kaur and Lilima Minz; the troika has gained significant international experience over the years. Skipper Rani Rampal and Vandana Katariya will spearhead the forward line and form a lethal combo when they get going.
A 4th place finish at the 2018 Commonwealth Games was surely a dampener given the potential this team possesses, but let us not forget the fact that this same team easily got the better of quality sides like Japan and China in the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy before settling for the runners-up trophy, losing to South Korea in a tight final contest.
Navneet Kaur has been one of the most improved forwards in the side – remember her hat-trick against Japan in the 4-1 win in the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy. Mizoram girl Lalremsiami is another exciting prospect, who can cause headline to the opposition defence.
Indian women’s team chief coach Sjoerd Marijne is teeming with confidence ahead of the World Cup campaign. “We got adequate time to prepare for an event as big as the World Cup after we qualified for it winning the 2017 Asia Cup last November. The girls are geared up to give their best.”
Hockey buffs will be rooting for the Blueskirts and hope that the Indian eves cross the ‘group stage’ hurdle and create a new chapter for women’s hockey in the country!