FIH Pro League: India braces up for Netherlands test

World No. 1 Netherlands will be without its top stars for the FIH Pro League duel against India at the Kalinga Stadium.

FILE PHOTO: The Indian women’s team will hope to build on its performance against Germany.   -  BISWARANJAN ROUT

The Indian women’s team faces a tough challenge when it takes on World No. 1 Netherlands in the first of two matches in the FIH Pro League at the Kalinga Stadium here on Friday.

None of the players who played for the Netherlands during its successful Olympic campaign will play the two-legged tie. Nonetheless, it won’t be a cakewalk for the Indian team. The last time the two teams clashed - during the Tokyo Olympics - India lost 5-1.

The Indian women so far have done well in their debut season. They are placed fourth in the standings with 12 points from six games. Netherlands, on the other hand, is perched at the top of the table, with 17 points from six matches.

‘Excited’

India captain Savita is aware of Netherlands’ strengths but she feels playing at home and being guided by a Dutch coach may help the team. “Netherlands is of course, the World No. 1 team, but if we recollect our last match against them - first match in Olympics - we held them 1-1 till first half. In the second half we committed mistakes. Now the team is quite excited that again we are getting a chance to play Netherlands and that, too, at home, so we will give our best,” Savita said at the virtual pre-match press conference.

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The Indians can heave a sigh of relief that the Dutch have fielded a completely new-look side for the two matches.

“Our main focus is on our team but we need to respect the opposition and work on their strengths and weaknesses. The club hockey in Netherlands is very strong, even if their main players are not coming, they have enough resources to build a strong team. New players got a chance and they would like to give their best as well. We also have some main players (Salima Tete, Sharmila Devi and Lalremsiami) who are in the Junior World Cup, which gives a chance to other players,” Savita said.

‘Can’t underestimate anyone’

Savita said it would be a mistake to underestimate Netherlands.

“Can’t take them easily, if senior players were there we would have enjoyed a lot because we would have got an opportunity to learn a lot. We can’t underestimate anyone, everything depends on how you play on that day.”

Rani Rampal, who was India’s captain for the Tokyo Olympics, is available for selection. But a decision on whether she plays in the upcoming matches will be decided by the coach. “Being a senior player myself, I know how happy it feels when a senior player returns. We were just waiting when would Rani complete her rehab and return to the team. But we are in no mood to put too much pressure on her as there are more important tournaments coming up like World Cup in July and the Asian Games. Whether Rani will play in these two matches will be decided after a discussion between her and the coach.”

The Indians will look to build on its performance against World No. 5 Germany, where it lost and won a game each via shootout.

“We have so far played six matches and match-by-match the team has progressed. The first shoot-out against Germany didn’t go well so I told the girls just to focus on what they do in training,” Savita said.

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