FIH Women's Series Finals: India begins race to Olympic qualifiers with match against Uruguay

Ranked ninth in the world, the Indian women’s team needs to finish among the top two in the FIH Women's Series Finals to make it to the Olympics qualifiers to be held later this year.

The India women's hockey team during a practice session ahead of the FIH Women's Series finals.   -  PTI

A confident India, led by Rani Rampal, will look to make it to the qualification round of the Tokyo Olympics when it opens its campaign against Uruguay in a pool A match of the FIH Women’s Series Finals here Saturday.

Ranked ninth in the world, the Indian women’s team needs to finish among the top two in the tournament to make it to the Olympics qualifiers to be held later this year.

“Our only mission this year is to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the athletes are prepared for this challenge,” said chief coach Sjoerd Marijne on the eve of their opening match.

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“We are a better experienced team now and the athletes know the importance of this tournament in which the winning team will be rewarded with 500 ranking points and that gives home advantage for the next round of qualification.”

Marijne said his team has prepared well for the tournament and finishing on the top is a realistic goal.

“We had two good practice matches (against a local club and the Japanese team). Since we arrived one week prior to the start, we have had good training sessions which has provided us an understanding of the pitch.

“We have played these teams during the World League Round 2 in 2017 and we are aware of their capabilities,” Marijne said.

In the warm-up matches, India beat a local club team 4-1 followed by a 2-1 win against the Japanese team which is grouped in Pool B with Chile, Russia and Mexico.

“The pitch here is fast which suits our style of play. We have utilized the past week in Hiroshima to allow our bodies to get used to the time-difference and the weather,” Marijne said. “On Thursday we had an off day to allow the players to keep their minds off hockey for a bit and come back feeling fresh on Friday where we have one good training session to build the rhythm for the match on Saturday,” he explained.

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After the opening match, India will play Poland on Sunday followed by Fiji on Tuesday.

“Our previous tours this year to Spain, Malaysia and Republic of Korea taught us to remain focused on our end result and not to take any team lightly,” Marijne said. “Every single match is important and that’s how the team needs to approach it.”