Indian women’s hockey team skipper Savita Punia on Tuesday said they are no more intimidated by top-ranked opponents and playing stronger sides instead brings out “a different kind of energy” in her teammates.
After finishing a creditable fourth at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and a lowly ninth at the World Cup the following year, the Indian team has scripted some new highs under coach Janneke Schopman and Punia.
They won the Commonwealth Games bronze and the Nations Cup in 2022 and are now gearing for the Asian Games in Hangzhou, in September-October.
“For last two-three years after the Olympics, whenever we played against any top team be it in the Pro League, World Cup, or the Commonwealth Games, never have we lost by a big margin,” Savita told reporters during a virtual media conference from their SAI Camp here.
“This is the big improvement. The new-found confidence in the team, the mindset that we have now for our opponents is different.” She said the team used to be under pressure some years ago but things changed for the better after the impressive show in the Tokyo Games.
“Maybe it was not the same five-six years ago, and of course, the ranking mattered. We used to play under a bit of pressure and that would affect our performance.
“But, after the Olympics and after working with Janneke, the focus is only on our team and performance. We just have to follow and execute our plans against our opponents, win and loss are with every team.
“Mentally and physically, we have a different kind of energy when we play against any top teams. Earlier, ranking would play in our minds, and we used to think that we have to put in a lot of hard work.
“It’s not that we are enjoying, but it’s more an even contest now. Five to 10 years ago, if we would raid their circle three times, they would have made those 15 times. But it’s equal number these days, be it in PC, shot on goal or circle entry. Team has improved a lot,” Savita said.
Hockey India on Tuesday picked a team for its upcoming tour to Germany and Spain, which would be the final leg of its preparation for the Asian Games.
The Savita led side will play a three-match Test series in Germany -- one against China and two against Germany from July 16-19.
The team’s next destination will be Spain where it will participate in the 100th Anniversary Spanish Hockey Federation International Tournament which will be held from July 25-30.
They will be up against South Africa, England and hosts Spain in the tournament in Terrassa.
“Spain or England are part of top teams. There is nothing to lose. We have to improve match by match. The feedback we get from the matches give us more confidence.
“Now a days we are just focused on our team, what we can do. It does not matter who our opponents are. The change of mindset has helped a lot,” she added.
Will fight our hardest to win Asian Games gold: Schopman
Olympic gold medallist Schopman, who was elevated to head coach from being in charge of the team post Tokyo Olympics, said India would give their best in the Asian Games.
India settled for a silver in the last edition after losing to Japan.
“Actually we can show ourselves. It does not matter what other teams bring. We want to be there, the way we know we can be. I say to them all the time, I won’t guarantee that we would win the Asian Games, but what I can guarantee you is that we will try our very best and we will fight our hardest fight to get there.
“We will do it together and we will never give up. I know that they will all contribute and bring that to that game plan. That is the only thing that I try to instill in them,” she said.
The focus in the upcoming tours would be on playing aggressively.
India lost to Australia twice and drew in their last outing of the series Down Under.
“We were not rewarding ourselves enough in terms of creating outcomes. A big thing for us is to get to same level of defending... when we defended really well as a team in the last match.
“We were able to delay and keep Australia far from our circle. But, at the same time, we created enough circle entries and even penalty corners,” she said about the 1-1 draw during the Australia Test series.
“This camp will focus on getting more goals, can we have more variety in our penalty corners. That is something I’m looking to see in this tour,” she added.
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