Rani to lead Indian women’s hockey team for Europe tour

Forward Rani will be leading an 18-member Indian women’s hockey team for the tour of Europe, which begins against the Netherlands on September 5. Goalkeeper Savita will be her deputy.

The Indian team began the year on a positive note with a five-match series win against Belarus followed by a podium finish at the World League Round 2 in Canada.   -  Getty Images

The Indian women's hockey team for the European tour was announced on Wednesday with a sprinkling of youngsters included in the side as coach Sjoerd Marijne hoped to expand his choices ahead of the Asia Cup later this year.

With a World Cup qualification spot at stake, the Asia Cup would be the big test for the team and, despite a disappointing outing at the Hockey World League Semifinals in Johannesburg, the Dutchman and the players are hoping to improve on the tour that would see the girls play two games each against the Belgian junior men's side and the Den Bosch club women's team.

“We will be experimenting new combinations in Holland and try out different variations in penalty corner conversions and goal-scoring. Mental training is another aspect we are focused on in our ongoing camp apart from improving speed and core fitness,” the 43-year-old Marijne said.

Youngsters like Rashmita Minz, Karishma Yadav and Lalremsiami have been brought in, while the likes of Sushila Chanu, Ritu Rani, Preeti Dubey and Anupa Barla have been rested.

The most important aspect of the tour for the Indians would be training sessions for penalty corners with Dutch expert Toon Seipman. India suffered from the absence of an experienced drag-flicker in Johannesburg with Gurjit Kaur being the lone one and hardly used.

“We will have nine training sessions with Seipman, who is a drag-flick expert. I am sure our players can learn a great deal,” Marijne added.

The team would leave for the 15-day tour, from September 5-20, after a three-week camp in Bengaluru. India finished eighth at the HWL Semifinals, managing to win and draw a game each, against lower-ranked sides. A bigger concern was the lack of speed and stamina with the girls appearing not just lethargic but clueless throughout the tournament. Captain Rani, though, insisted the team was focusing on consistency.

“There are quite a few aspects we need to learn from our Johannesburg outing. We need to bring more energy into our attack and I am sure playing in Holland will be a learning experience,” she said.

The Asia Cup would be held in Japan from October 25-November 5 and with three of the top continental teams — Japan, Korea and China — already qualified for World Cup, India has a good chance of making the cut, though it would be hoping to do so with a title it last won in 2004.

The squad:

Goalkeepers: Savita Punia, Rajani Etimarpu; defenders: Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjit Kaur, Navdeep Kaur, Sunita Lakra and Rashmita Minz.

Midfielders: Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Monika, Karishma Yadav, Lilima Minz, Neha Goyal.

Forwards: Rani Rampal, Poonam Rani, Vandana Katariya, Reena Khokhar, Lalremsiami.

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