The Indian women’s hockey team has had little trouble at the Asian Champions Trophy here so far but the real challenge will begin on Monday when it takes on recently-crowned Asian Games champion China.
It will not just be a grudge match but also a chance for India to reassert its status as the top-ranked side in the competition.
With Sunday being a rest day, the Indians – barring the goalkeepers -- preferred to rest and recover, knowing well that with the relatively easier games out of the way, the team would need to step up, both physically and tactically, against the tougher opponents lined up here on.
“We know we can do much better than what we played against China in the Asian Games, now it’s just a matter of doing it. It’s like getting it out of the mind and getting into the field. The big disappointment for me was that we didn’t play our game (in Hangzhou),” coach Janneke Schopman declared ahead of the face-off.
China is confident, they know they have won the AG, they have had eight months of playing 40-50 matches and that makes all the difference,” she added.
She has reason to feel disappointed. In the two days of action here so far, China has registered easy wins but has not appeared invincible.
While coach Alyson Annan has the luxury to fiddle with her plans and combinations, the team has lacked sharpness in attack and found penalty corners a concern, something the Indians need to focus on as well.
For the Indians, playing in front of huge crowds is a novelty they appear to have embraced.
Starting tentatively against Thailand, India was much cleaner and controlled against Malaysia and seems to have found its rhythm. The experience of Deep Grace Ekka and Vandana Katariya at the back and front respectively, linked by the team’s biggest star here, Nikki Pradhan – the number of Nikki jerseys in the stands proof of her status – has combined well with the skills of Sangita and Salima Tete. A win will be a testament to the team being on the right track.
Also in action will be defending champion Japan against Thailand (6.15 pm) and three-time winner Korea against Malaysia (4 pm).
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