FIH Women’s Olympic Qualifiers: What lies ahead for those who did not qualify?

India, New Zealand, Italy, Chile and Czechia missed out on a ticket to Paris Olympics 2024 but have plenty to look forward to in the near future.

Published : Jan 20, 2024 16:46 IST , RANCHI - 4 MINS READ

Indian team during the FIH Women’s Olympic Qualifiers held in Ranchi.
Indian team during the FIH Women’s Olympic Qualifiers held in Ranchi. | Photo Credit: PTI

Indian team during the FIH Women’s Olympic Qualifiers held in Ranchi. | Photo Credit: PTI

While Germany, USA and Japan booked their spots for Paris 2024 Olympics after grabbing top three spots at the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers here, the other five participants - India, New Zealand, Italy, Chile and Czechia - have to regroup and shift their focus towards what lies ahead in the near future with the bigger picture of Los Angeles 2028 in mind.

The host nation, led by goalkeeper Savita Punia and coach Janneke Schopman, had immense support from the crowd at the Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh AstroTurf Stadium. However, the team succumbed under pressure after leading against Germany in the penalty shootout in the semifinals. Turning up in less than 24 hours after that defeat, India failed to break Japan’s defence and suffered a 1-0 loss in the bronze medal match, its final chance to qualify for Paris.

India, for now, does not have much time to deeply assess and review where it all went wrong as it prepares to face the US, the Netherlands, Australia and China in its first set of Pro League fixtures from February 3 to 18 in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela. Its next set of games will be in May and June.

Hockey India President Dilip Tirkey told Sportstar that the federation has no major concerns about Schopman but will look at the future plans and talk to everyone concerned.

Along with India, New Zealand was the favourite to make it to the semifinals from Group B. However, the narrow 1-0 loss to lower-ranked USA in its final group match meant the Black Sticks will miss the Olympics for the first time since 1996. “Against USA, we had enough to win. Maybe, just didn’t start well enough but again, it was only 1-0 with half a game to go. We still could have won that game. That’s probably the most disappointing game,” said coach Phil Burrows after his team beat Italy 3-1 to finish fifth.

For New Zealand, the next assignment is the FIH Nations Cup in June. The winner of that tournament qualifies for next season of the Pro League. Burrows admitted that the Olympic qualifiers could be the last tournament for some players as the team prepares for Los Angeles Olympics. Whether the future plans include captain Olivia Merry (Age 31, Matches - 282), Samantha Chile (Age - 32, Matches 272) and Julia King (Age - 31, Matches - 141) remains to be seen.

Also read | Menezes breaks down Japan’s tactics to outplay India in Olympic Qualifiers

Italy, led by 23-year-old forward Federica Carta, finished at the bottom of Group B before clinching its first win of the tournament as it beat Chile in the 5-8 classification. “We knew the group was very strong, but I think we could compete in every match. In the end, our opponents were bigger and better,” said Carta, an Italian literature student who plays league hockey for Real Sociedad in Spain.

Chile fancied its chances of qualifying for the Olympics for the first time in history. The Pan American Games bronze medallist, coached by Sergio ‘Cachito’ Vigil, an Argentine, needed to beat Japan in its last group game to join Germany in the semifinals. However, Jude Menezes’ side had too much quality and easily clinched a 2-0 victory. Chile eventually finished seventh after beating Czechia 1-0.

“It was a tough tournament. All the teams were looking for something very important, which is to qualify for the Olympics and there were only three spots. In the end you had to fight very hard, and every detail counted. Rest of the other teams were better in those details in scoring the goals that had to be scored and defended well,” said Chile co-captain Camila Caram.

The 34-year-old Caram, who made her Chile debut in 2006, has a two-year-old son named Leon. “Sharing space with the team is always something that I will remember and maybe it won’t be repeated again soon,” she said.

Chile will next join Italy and New Zealand in the Nations Cup.

Czechia skipper Katerina Lacina (blue) in action.
Czechia skipper Katerina Lacina (blue) in action. | Photo Credit: FIH

Czechia skipper Katerina Lacina (blue) in action. | Photo Credit: FIH

World No. 25 Czechia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, could not score even once while conceding 21 goals in five games. The side, coached by Gareth Grundie, had nine under-21 players. Only skipper Katerina Lacina, 30, and Adela Lehovkova, 32, had more than 100 caps.

“In the Czech Republic, field hockey is a pretty small sport. It’s a family sport and not many players do this sport. It’s pretty difficult to have an inner competition in the team but we hope with these tournaments and with these steps we make, we can make hockey more famous and get more young players into this,” said Lacina.

Lacina plays league hockey in Belgium and also works in the administration department for a construction company. She had an operation in 2012 for a bone tumour in the head. The bone was replaced by a Titan mesh and ever since, she wears a head guard for protection.

Czechia and Italy will have the EuroHockey Indoor Championship next month and the qualifiers in August for next year’s EuroHockey Outdoor Championship.

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