‘Confident of tackling US test’

‘Confident of tackling US test’

Sjoerd Marijne

An improved Indian women’s hockey side was pitted against USA, an opponent who is no pushover, in the final round of the Olympic qualifiers on Monday. The last time when these two sides met, India rallied to pull off a 1-1 draw in the World Cup in London last year. Ahead of their games on November 1 and 2 in Bhubaneswar, coach Sjoerd Marijne said the team is in the right frame of mind. 

“A lot of things have changed after the World Cup. They (USA) have lost a couple of experienced players like Melissa Gonzalez and Katie Bam. Whereas we have taken big steps. We feel confident and it doesn’t matter who we play and these are the exact words from the girls. We are just focusing on staying in the rhythm,” Marijne told reporters in an interaction at the Sports Authority of India, Southern Centre, here on Tuesday. 

USA, who blanked India 3-0 in the group stages at the Rio Olympics three years ago, are known for their physical toughness. Marijne said the team, over the last two years, has learnt to counter the rival’s strength. “USA is a very physical side whereas we aren’t. But we have got into a habit of playing to our strengths and that should help us,” the Dutch offered. 

The Rani Rampal-led side had emerged champions in the Olympic Test Event in Tokyo and Marijne drew a couple of positives from his team’s performance. “We played well against Australia, Japan and China, all good teams. I was happy especially with the last two games. We played them back to back and both were high-level contests. The girls hadn’t experienced playing successive games and since we are playing back to back in the Qualifiers, we are confident of pulling off a good show. Also, the conditions were hot but we managed to deal with it,” Marijne explained.

For Rani and co, it will be an opportunity to make the Olympics for the third time, after their appearances in the 1980 edition in Moscow and the previous edition in Rio de Janeiro. Rani said playing the Qualifiers at home is a big advantage. “There is no pressure on us. We are excited to play at home. The crowd is like the 12th player and we will use their energy to do well. We are staying calm,” said the striker. 

Rani felt the Indian team’s improved fitness level will play a crucial role. “USA is a physical team. They are a good side. But we are ready for the challenge. We are confident of putting more pressure on them and stealing more balls,” she offered.