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Did the Indian women's hockey team exceeded our expectations at Tokyo Olympics?

After a disappointing finish at the last Olympics, Indian women's hockey team has reached the semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Indian Womens Hockey Team
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Indian Women's Hockey Team (Source: Hockey India)

By

Subhashish Majumdar

Updated: 2021-08-05T08:54:58+05:30

From watching the Indian girls being pulverised at the hands of the Dutch by a 0-7 margin, in 2015, to preparing a transformed Indian outfit who defeated the gold medal favourites Australia in the quarterfinals to reach the semifinal stage for the first time at the Olympics, life has come a full circle for Sjoerd Marijne.

At Antwerp, Marijne looked on with delight from the Dutch camp as Naomi van Ass, Willemijn Bos, Caia van Maasakker, and Lidewij Welten went on a rampage against the team he has now been coaching with aplomb for over four years.

Several Tokyo-bound players like Rani Rampal, Navjot Kaur, Deep Grace, Vandana Kataria and goalkeeper Savita were part of the Indian team which lost the Antwerp encounter, but have since come of age to coalesce into a world-class unit feared the world over.

So much so, that not many are surprised by the feat achieved by Indian girls after they made the knockouts despite being pooled amongst formidable and higher-ranked teams like Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland aside from the indomitable Dutch.

After all, the Indian eves did make it to the quarterfinals of the London World Cup where a tragic loss to giant-killers Ireland cut short a dream run that could well have led to a watershed moment in the women's game in India.

The Indian girls have since beaten Ireland while on a tour to Spain in early 2019 before having mixed results against Great Britain later the same year.

For a side that failed to win a single match in Rio 2016 and went on to finish last among the 12 teams, a World Cup quarterfinal spot was nothing short of a dream.

Yet, Chief Coach, Marijne and the team refuse to rest on their laurels and remain firmly grounded on the eve of their Tokyo sojourn.

Marijne asks fans not to raise expectations

The only two Olympic teams that are ranked lower than the tenth-ranked Indians are South Africa - who have found a place in Group A alongside India – and, hosts Japan who are in Group B.

"Do not raise expectations higher than what the reality is" cautions the Chief Coach who is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead for a team that is severely short of vital match practice ahead of the biggest sporting event of all.

Coach Sjoerd Marijne with the Indian women's national team. (Source: ESPN)

Rani and co. delighted their fans by holding Olympic champions and hosts England in the World Cup opener after having given Australia the jitters in the Commonwealth Games semi-finals at Gold Coast in 2018.

Yet, owing to a combination of various factors, the Indian girls have not been accorded the chance to play against superior teams as often as they would have liked to ever since the Hockey Pro League began.

Pro League to the pandemic - Indian girls miss out on big-match practice.

While nine of the world's top teams engaged in many an epic battle, the Indian girls who were not part of the HPL, had to remain content playing tour matches with the big sides in 2019 and subsequently amidst the pandemic.

Also, four teams from India's group at Tokyo (Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany) have had the distinct advantage of playing at the EuroHockey Nations Championships last month.

Marijne is rueful about the lack of competitive hockey the girls have had, but stresses that the team learned a lot from the limited games they managed to play.

The Indians failed to win a single encounter during their visits to Germany and Argentina earlier this year, but the very fact that they managed to cross swords against two of the best sides in the game presented an opportunity to focus and rebuild.

"We have learnt to control what we can control. We have done all we can to improve since taking on Germany and Argentina and need to see if that will be enough."

The Indians found themselves in what appears to be the tougher of the two groups.

While Group B does feature strong teams like Argentina and New Zealand, the Indians would have fancied their chances against Australia, whom they have now beaten in the quarterfinals, and have beaten teams like China, Japan, and Spain over the past few years.

To make it to the knock-out stage, the Indians can ill afford too many slip-ups, but do have personnel, in the ranks, who are more than capable of handling the pressure.

No big surprises in tried and tested squad.

Experienced midfielder, Sushila Chanu who wasn't picked for the World Cup and Asian Games squad is back in the team for the Tokyo Olympics which features several young talents like Sharmila Devi, and Salima Tete who was part of the Youth Olympic squad.

Gurjit Kaur will shoulder the enormous responsibility of attempting to convert the short corners that come her team's way while the redoubtable Savita Punia will be guarding India's goal at Tokyo.

Marijne's strikers include the brilliant Rani Rampal who will attempt to breach the opposition fortress flanked by Vandana, Navneet Kaur, and the diminutive but ebullient Mizo livewire, Lalremsiami.

Indian Women's Hockey Team captain Rani Rampal. (Source: Hockey India)

Despite the coach's attempts at setting realistic goals ahead of the mammoth test, Marijne knows deep within that with a bit of luck, the chosen sixteen who board the Tokyo flight may well return to a welcome that has hitherto only been dreamt of.

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