Hockey Olympic Qualifiers: Back from the brink, India quietly confident for key clash against Germany

Ranchi, Jan 17 – Pushed to the brink by their defeat to the United States in their opening match, the Indian women’s hockey team goes into the semifinal against Germany with a lot of confidence in the Women’s FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers here on Thursday.

The next league match against New Zealand was a real pressure cooker situation for India and a do-or-die clash as defeat would have ended their hopes in the tournament and could have made heads toll. The team survived that as it came up with a brilliant comeback to beat the Black Sticks 3-1.

They capitalised on that second breath to outplay Italy 5-1 and sealed a place in the semifinals.

Victory against Germany in the semifinal will confirm a berth in the Paris Olympic Games to be played later this year, defeat would not end India’s chances, and they will have one more opportunity in the third-fourth match to clinch their ticket to Paris.

“The match against New Zealand had us really under pressure. We had already lost to the US and another loss would have meant that we would been out of the tournament. So, we were really under pressure. Germany is a good team, the players have good individual skills and they are very strong defensively. But we are also confident, we have prepared well and are ready for the match,” said the Indian women’s hockey team captain Savita ahead of the semifinal clash.

Another reason for Savita and her team being confident ahead of the semifinal clash is the improved performance against New Zealand and Italy, which has boosted the team’s morale. They know that Germany will be their toughest opponent in this tournament but are not daunted by their reputation even though Germany was held 1-1 by Japan.

Head coach Janneke Schopman said India will have their chances if they play to their strengths.

“We know Germany well, we played them this summer. We played them in Spain. They’re a very good team, they’re very good individual players, they have very good individual skill, they defend really well. But I think if we play to our strengths and focus on ourselves, we can also hurt them a little bit,” said Schopman.

Both the coach and captain said the Indians will have to be very proactive, vigilant and reactive in the final third at both ends of the pitch.

“I think we need to defend really well and like I said, if we can attack to our strengths and play to our strengths in general, let’s see what happens because it’s a hockey game and everyone can win,” said the 46-year-old coach.

Though a bit short on experience, the Indians have done well in defence and attack against New Zealand and Italy. They scored early and defended stoutly. However, Schopman said she would prefer neither team to score an early goal on Thursday.

India scored an early goal both against New Zealand and Italy, sounding the board within the first minute. Coach Schopman said early goal tends to make the team a bit complacent as they get into defensive mode.

“They did that against Italy because they knew that even a 1-1 result would have been enough (to reach semis), so after scoring the goal, they were like ‘even if it ends 1-1, we will be through’. That was not the case in the New Zealand match, even though they equalised soon after, the team responded well and scored a couple of more goals,” said Schopman.

On their part, Germany too made a good comeback after being held 1-1 by Japan as they routed the Czech Republic 10-0 to top Pool A. They definitely have pulled up their socks following the disappointing performance against Japan as they wasted 14 penalty corners.

Coach Valentin Alterburg had said that they need to work out a plan to open up the defence when teams put all their players behind the ball. Though the Germans managed to execute that plan superbly against the Czech Republic, they will have to be quite vigilant against the Indian counter-attacks as both coach Schopman and skipper Savita promised the team will not curb its attacking instincts and go totally defensive against the mighty Germans.

“We will defend in numbers but will also try and play our regular aggressive hockey,” said Savita in the pre-match press conference here on Wednesday.

If the Indians manage to execute their plans, it will be an entertaining encounter and the result could be anything.

Overall, Germany has held an edge in the head-to-head series since 2006. They have won four matches while India have won one, two matches ended in draws that were decided in shoot-outs with India winning one and Germany the other. The teams had played a practice match before the Hockey Olympic Qualifiers in Ranchi that Germany won 4-2.

The last time they clashed in an FIH-level event was in the 2021-22 FIH Pro League with both matches ending 1-1 and were decided in shootouts. Germany had beaten India 2-0 in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Though they have another chance to qualify in this event, both Germany and India would like to seal their place by winning the semifinal and reaching the final of the Olympic Qualifiers. That would be a real morale booster ahead of the mega event.


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