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Why Indian women are one of the most feared teams in world hockey

The Indian women are going to Tokyo Olympics as the highest-ranked team in Asia thanks to a series of performances that exceeded expectations.

Why Indian women are one of the most feared teams in world hockey

Subhashish Majumdar

Updated: 2021-07-19T20:08:48+05:30

Despite being the third lowest-ranked side in the competition, the Indian women's hockey team have displayed time and again that quality and grit are two attributes that they are seldom short of when the going gets tough. Having risen to the ninth position in the FIH world rankings in August 2018, ahead of continental rivals China and South Korea, the Indian eves became the highest-ranked team in Asia thanks to a series of performances that exceeded expectations.

Not being part of the FIH Pro League may well have cost Sjoerd Marijne's side to slide one rung in the rankings, but seated as they are in the tenth spot ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Indians remain one of the most feared teams in world hockey.

Indian women can go further than expected at Tokyo 2020

Ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games semi-final against Australia at Gold Coast, the Australian media dubbed the clash as the "toughest yet'' for the home team and lauded the Indians for having put up a fighting performance following the 0-1 defeat.

More than ever before, the time has now come for the eves to display their mettle on the biggest stage of all, while being up against the odds in a formidable group.

Less than a week from now, the Indians will square off against the Netherlands in a clash that will be anything but a lung opener.

Apart from Rani Rampal, a lot of hopes will be pinned on goalkeeper Savita Punia.

The Dutch women have changed the dynamics of the game over the last decade or so after winning a golden triple (2012 Olympics, 2013 Hockey World League and 2014 World Cup) under the tutelage of Max Caldas.

While Caldas will be in Tokyo with the Dutch men's team, women's team coach Alyson Annan has ensured that the girls remain just as dominant, losing just one out of 12 matches en route to being crowned champions of the 2020 FIH Pro League.

The Indians begin their campaign against a side that is easily the best in the tournament and the road thereon can only get simpler to traverse on.

Progressing to the quarterfinals - tough, but not impossible

Although the Germans will be tough to beat, as always, the Indians have got the better of their other Group A rivals, Great Britain, South Africa, and Ireland over the last three years or so, and the matches against the three sides in question could go either way.

The Indians will, no doubt, draw inspiration from Ireland - a team that were ranked 16th, before the Women's World Cup that went on to reach the finals much to the astonishment of the hockey world.

The Irish girls displayed by virtue of their exploits in London, how open the women's game could be, and their close quarterfinal against India is a testament to the fact that Sjoerd Marijne's team could have gone the same distance had luck favored them a trifle more.

The Indians subsequently beat the World Cup silver medallists on tour a couple of years back, extracting sweet revenge for the loss at London 2018, where the girls had very nearly got the better of hosts England.

The Indians will be hoping to get past Great Britain in the pool stages and given their recent history against GB, a team that won 5 and lost 4 of their 12 Hockey Pro League matches this season, will be more than confident of their chances.

Three draws, a win, and a loss in a five-match series, in 2019, against the Rio Olympic champions was no mean feat and proved beyond doubt that India's performance against GB at the World Cup was no flash in the pan.

The clinical Indians also got past South Africa by a lone goal at the Commonwealth Games, a couple of days after having beaten England, and there is no reason to believe why the girls shouldn't be able to ensure a repeat show in the group stage at Tokyo.

Marijne's team have an encouraging record against Group B rivals

A quarterfinal place, for Marijne's team, could open up a host of possibilities to progress further as the Indians have an encouraging record against four out of the six teams in Group B.

Consistent wins over China and Japan (with the exception of the loss to the Japanese in the Asian Games final) and a 1-1 draw against Spain in a four-match series in 2019, is what gives Sjoerd Marijne the confidence that anything is possible once the team makes it to the knockouts.

The time has now come for the eves to display their mettle on the biggest stage of all.

With the exception of New Zealand, whom the Indian girls haven't faced lately, and Argentina, who are a class apart, having beaten even the Netherlands in the 2020 Hockey Pro League, Rani and co will fancy their chances of getting past every other side in Group B.

Scientific Advisor, Wayne Lombard's persistence with assisting the girls with their strength, fitness, and stamina has paid off in no small measure – and, who knows, the Indian eves may go a lot further than they are currently expected to.

Getting to the knock-out stage, seemingly, appears more difficult than going beyond, and a place in the quarterfinals will ensure that the girls have the backing of an entire nation to take them on to heights yet unclimbed in the annals of Indian women's hockey.

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