Marijne Sjoerd: ‘India has a chance against every team’

Marijne Sjoerd knows that the Indian women’s team was favourite to win in the Hockey World League Round 2 but is also aware that the victory means little in the larger scheme of things for the future.

India defeated Chile to win the Women’s Hockey World League Round 2 and qualified for the World League semifinal.   -  PTI

It was the best possible start to his stint with the Indian women's hockey team but Marijne Sjoerd doesn't really care. He knows his team was favourite to win but is also aware that the victory means little in the larger scheme of things for the future.

The Hockey World League Round 2 win in West Vancouver that helped the team advance to the next round – also a World Cup qualifier – was the Dutchman's first outing in charge of the team and the 42-year old knew better than to call it a big achievement.

“It was a stretched tournament for us, we played only four matches in nine days, with lots of rest. That is not really very nice for keeping our rhythm through the tournament. But, we concentrated on the next games and trained hard. We had no problems playing against those teams, in terms of fitness, that was a good thing. The team's technical skills are good,” he told Sportstar.

He is back home in Holland for a short break. The team will reassemble on March 23.

Lack of faith

As coach of the Dutch side that won 7-0 in the only match against India he has been involved in – at the HWL Semifinals in 2015, which Holland eventually won – Sjoerd had little idea about the bunch of girls he was to take charge of till about a month back. And the one thing he has realised in the time he has been with them is the lack of faith in themselves.

"I feel the players are worried that Argentina or South Africa is better than them. At times, they lose a match even before they step on the field. Also, I did not know then that this was the first time the team was favourite in a competition, and it was a strange place to be in for them, but is also gives kind of strength that they are not really used to. That showed in the first game against Uruguay but we adjusted really fast after that,” Sjoerd said.

His assessment is eerily reminiscent of the Indian men's team from more than a decade ago. A former player had commented after the 2004 Athens Olympics that many of the top teams back then knew they would win against India even before the game began.

“We lacked belief and confidence and that showed in our body language,” he had said. Things have changed since then.

The Indian women, Sjoerd believed, are in a similar position.

“The mental problem was there in the beginning, as I said. Being favourites is not familiar territory for these girls. We spoke of the Olympics, where they did not win a single match, and I felt that the girls look up to the other teams, which is really not necessary. Yes they have to learn and I am not saying they will immediately start winning but they have to begin believing in themselves somewhere,” he insisted.

Captain Rani Rampal, all of 22 and already one of the senior-most players in the side, appreciated the attacking, aggressive hockey the Junior World Cup-winning coach brought into the side. But, Sjoerd wants the aggression to be mixed with a structured and patient style for it to be most effective.

'Chance against every team'

The coach is clear there would be changes in the team between now and Johannesburg, specially with a six-game test series in New Zealand, thrown in next month as part of the preparations.

“Against a strong team like New Zealand is when I will really see their level and only then can I say something. I cant say which position the team will finish but the skills are there to give us a chance against every team,” he said.

In Canada, India was the top-ranked side. At the Hockey World League Semifinals in Johannesburg in July, the level of competition would be completely different with Argentina (World No. 3), USA (6), England (2) and Germany (7) being some of the other teams.