After fourth finish in the recently concluded Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast in Australia and subsequent change of coach, defending champions India will take on Japan, a tough opponent, in its opening match at the 5th Women’s Asian Champions Trophy in South Korea on Sunday.
The team, led by experienced defender Sunita Lakra and vice captain Savita, eyes a strong start against World No.12 Japan, who have in the past given India a hard fight, often challenging the it with a structured defence marking to make scoring a Herculean task.
It may be pertinent to mention that Hockey India, before ordering reshuffling of chief coaches of men and women teams after the Commonwealth Games fiasco, had also announced that Rani Rampal would continue as captain of Indian women’s team for the rest of 2018. But in the very first tournament of the announcement, Rani Rampal has been rested.
For Sjoerd Marijine, who has returned to the women’s team after a brief stint with the men’s team, it is an added responsibility to keep Indian women’s team on the winning pedestal as under Harnedra Singh, the team had won the Asia Cup early this year.
In the 2013 Asian Champions Trophy, Japan had beaten India in the Final to win the trophy. In the 2016 edition where India eventually won the title for the first time, Japan had held India to a 2-2 draw and had beaten finalists China in the Pool game of the tournament which was held in Singapore. India had lost 0-2 to Japan in last year’s Hockey World League Round Three in July but avenged that loss in the Asia Cup where they defeated Japan, who were the defending Champions and hosts of the Tournament. “We have always had tough competition against Japan. They are a quality team and breaking their defence early in the match will be crucial for us,” says Sunita Lakra, 27-year-old skipper, a native of Sundargarh, Odisha.
India can take draw inspiration from its 6-0 win against Malaysia in a warm-up match on Friday. The team, according to Sunita, is high on confidence after doing well against higher ranked teams at the recent XXI Commonwealth Games. “We want to make a good start to the tournament and the team is confident of it. We no longer go into tournaments as the underdogs. We have a winning mentality now and want to take it match-by-match here. We had a good warm-up match against Malaysia. It was for three quarters and the team played to structure. We hope to carry the same consistency into our first game on Sunday,” Sunita adds.