India will be the team to beat, says SA captain

South Africa women’s team, among the last to arrive for the Olympic qualifiers here, was in fact, the most awaited team in the event. The Proteas, known for their electrifying game, not only raise the standard of the event but also pose biggest threat to the Indian women's ambition of taking the road to London.

The South Africans had defeated a depleted India in the series in Argentina in December and while the team takes confidence from that, captain Marsha Marescia admitted that India, boosted by the return of the seniors, will be tough opponents on the home turf.

"India will be the team to beat. They have some exceptional players like Rani Rampal who is very dangerous inside the circle. India's captain (Asunta Lakra) is also a good player. They are going to be tough," Marescia said.

Marescia said the team has not lost on time by arriving late as they had the experience of playing in the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium during the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Also, the team played a tri-series involving Begium and Spain at home as preparation for qualifiers.

“The challenge will be to win the first match. You always do a bit of trial and error there and also to get used to the turf and environment. The first match is always tough ,” Marescia said.

“While we know we have expectations from outside to perform, we too have to carry the expectations from ourselves. We will take it as it comes.”

Perhaps what adds sting to the South African's challenge is the hard stand of their Olympic association who refused to send their entries for the London Games despite their win at the African championships in Bulawayo. The Olympic committee feels the team had not played against world-class opposition and need to prove that they are ready for London by playing against some quality teams.

Pietie Coetzee, who is the all-time leading goal scorer in women's international hockey, admitted it was “frustrating” for the team in the beginning.

"Not qualifying despite qualifying was frustrating in the beginning. But we have to deal with it. We are focussing on the qualifiers. There is no point harping about it when you have a job to do,” Coetzee said.

Coetzee said the team is an improved lot with a quite a few youngsters in the ranks.
"We have made a lot of tactical changes. We are working on the percentages, to commit less mistakes and survive for 70 minutes. We have a young team and some of the youngsters are very fast. In fact, we do not call them youngsters as they are very mature players,” said Coetzee, who played in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. "Our goalkeeping has also improved.”

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