India start favourites

Stakes high for women's team in World League 2

It has become rare to see Indian women hockey team playing in front of the home crowd. Through to the World League Round-2, where they are the favourites, the young side will be eager to add to their fan base besides showing their skills with the stick.  

With the nine-day tournament, which kicks off at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium here on Saturday, also serving as a rung to the Rio Olympic qualifications, the stakes and interest only gets higher for the hosts.

The eight- team tournament will see a fight for the top two finish which ensures a place in the League’s semifinals that will be a qualification tournament for the Olympics.

India are the highest ranked (13th) team in the competition and have been placed in Pool A. They open their campaign against an unfancied Ghana. Thailand and Poland are the other teams in their pool. Malaysia is the highest ranked team in Pool B , which also feature  Russia, Kazakhstan and Singapore.

The Indians are led by experienced Ritu Rani. The team had shown significant improvement under former coach Neil Hawgood, beating some top teams and winning bronze at the 2014 Asian Games.

The girls, till the new coach Anthony Thornton takes over the reins, have trained under Hockey India’s high performance director Roelant Oltmans, who had exuded confidence on this side’s ability to make the cut for the Olympics..

The team is brimming with confidence after beating higher-ranked Germany and hosts Spain during an away trip. The team has been working on their goal scoring abilities besides working on a few areas of their defence.

“Our sole target is to perform well and get into round 3 in order to move a step closer to qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The team is confident following recent victories against Germany and Spain in Valencia. We have a good chance as we are the highest ranked side,” said India captain Ritu Rani.

“Team is in form and the combinations are set. We can make history by qualifying for the Olympics, which is our collective dream. “

India had an injury concern in their key dragflicker Jaspreet Kaur, who fractured her finger during training. She, however, has been announced fit to play. Apart from Jaspreet, Deep Grace Ekka, vice-captain Deepika, Namita Toppo and Sunita Lakra will take charge of the backline.

Also, key striker Rani Rampal, 20, is returning from a shoulder injury and a stiff back but Oltmans insisted that she had done well during the camp. Alongwith her Poonam Rani, Soundarya Yendala and Vandana Katariya makes a strong forward line. 

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