Canada seeking lost pride

A world force in the mid-eighties and early nineties, the Canadian women’s hockey has remained in oblivion since.

The Olympic qualifiers here are the last attempt for the young team to make it to the London Games and, to some extent, redeem lost pride.

Under legendary South Africa-born coach Marina van der Merwe, Canada had developed into an international powerhouse and captured the silver medal at the 1983 World Cup. In 1992, they also qualified for the Barcelona Olympics, their last Olympic appearance.

Probably that was the time they were able to grab front-page news, a rare feat considering the accomplishments of their hockey teams on frozen waters.

Now, Canada are ranked 20th in the world and haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1994. The current team, full of youngsters, has shown sparks after reaching the semifinals of the recent Pan American Games in Mexico.

Captain Katie Baker, 27, acknowledged the challenge but insisted they are an improved lot. “We are going into the qualifiers ranked fourth, so it is going to be a challenge. Obviously, we will be looking to qualify, it is not impossible,” said Baker, who with her team-mates arrived here in the wee hours of Saturday.

“Most of these girls were part of the Commonwealth Games. We are fielding the best team. The pitch here is good and we are getting used to it. ”

The team had a practice camp at Vancouver which included fitness testing, mental training, weight training, on-field sessions and inter-squad games. The Canadians face South Africa, India, Italy, Ukraine and Poland in the tournament from February 18 to 26 at the Major Dhyan Chand National stadium.

The top two teams after round-robin play will compete in the final, with the winner earning an Olympic berth. “The last time we played India was when we hosted a four-match series which India won and then in the Commonwealth Games. We have also played a few matches against South Africa,” Baker said.

The side is happy to play in Delhi. “It is beautiful weather. It was very hot during the Commonwealth Games.”

The Italian women team, with former Argentine international Fernando Ferrara as coach, arrived late on Saturday morning and had ‘low-tempered’ training.

Italy had a one-month preparation for the event playing against teams like Argentina, Germany and Chile.

“It is going to be a difficult tournament. We will like to take it match by match. India and South Africa are the favourites but we have a strong defence which will help us in the tournament. The pitch is good,” said Ferrara, who has been the national coach since 2007.

The team is a mix of youth and experience with captain Chiara Tiddi, 23, having played in India in 2005 in the Indira Gandhi International tournament.

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