'SA our main opponents'

'SA our main opponents'

Camp for Olympic qualifiers to kick off on Friday

The Olympic qualifiers are round the corner and the women’s hockey probables have started gathering for a national camp here, fervently hoping to make the cut for the quadrennial event in London.

The team returned home last week after playing two four-nation tournaments involving Ireland, Argentina and South Africa in the Argentine cities of Buenos Aires and Parana. In the absence of top players, the team finished third in both tournaments, but according to coach CR Kumar, things are not as grim as they appear.

The coach said the team missed the services of senior players Joydeep Kaur, Jasjeet Kaur, Mukta Prava Barla, Chanchan Dev and Saba Anjum, who gave the tour a skip owing to injuries and personal reasons.

With these players now back, Kumar felt India stood a good chance of coming out on top in the qualifiers which will be played at the National Stadium from February 15 to 26.  The hosts will compete against Ukraine, Poland, Canada, Italy and South Africa.

“South Africa will be our main opponents. They are a rung above us at 12th place but rankings do not matter. In Argentina, we lost to them narrowly. It is a big positive for us that they have not played against our full strength while we have,” Kumar told Deccan Herald.

“In Argentina, even though we came third, we had some very close matches. We had to take five players from the under-21 team, so we had a mix of youth and experience. Overall, the team did well.”

The players have already started filing in for the camp and will begin practice on Friday. The players who toured Argentina will join on January 3. As many as 48 probables are expected to be in the camp.

Kumar, who will arrive here on Friday,  is clear on the areas to work on in the camp. “We will work on short-corner conversion, defence and goal-scoring. We are not taking any team lightly,” he said.

“The pressure is obviously there as the qualifiers are always very competitive with every team hoping to make the cut. But I am positive and happy with the way team has shaped up,” he said.

As part of its preparations, the team will play a few matches against Azerbaijan from January 11.

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