Janneke Schopman on Tokyo 2020: India is a dark horse in hockey

Schopman, who joined the national camp at the SAI late last week, is convinced of the potential of this Indian team, currently ranked ninth in the world.

Janneke Schopman (left) oversees training with Sjoerd Marijne at the SAI complex in Bengaluru on Tuesday.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR


Back in November, Janneke Schopman was in the American dugout in Bhubaneswar when her side lost to India in the FIH Women's Olympic Qualifiers in heartbreaking fashion. Now, two months later, she is an integral part of India's preparations for the Tokyo Games.

When Schopman and the U.S. women's hockey team parted ways, in the aftermath of the qualifiers, India's Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne sent his old acquaintance a text, asking if she was interested in working alongside him as India's Analytical Coach. The 42-year-old former Dutch international, an Olympic gold-medallist from the 2008 Games, had no hesitation accepting.

Schopman, who joined the national camp at the SAI late last week, is convinced of the potential of this Indian team, currently ranked ninth in the world. "India is a dark horse [to medal at the Olympics]," she said here on Tuesday. "In the last Olympics, they didn't have the best result. But they learnt from that experience four years ago. India is a team with a lot of potential. You have a solid goalkeeper (Savita Punia), a good penalty corner attack and defence. You also have some key individual players. And the rest of the team is very unorthodox."

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India's absence from the FIH Pro League has an upside, Schopman believes. "India does something different from most countries. And that is hard for other countries to play against. It's a disadvantage that we are not in the FIH Pro League but it's also an advantage because teams don't see us so much. We have something hidden that we can use," she said.

As a player, Schopman won gold (2008) and silver (2004) medals at the Olympics, to go with a World Cup and a European title. She was also the USA's assistant coach at the 2016 Olympics. In Marijne's eyes, that experience is invaluable. "She has that knowledge. I don't. Besides, she is individually very strong with the players. In India, players don't come very easy to the chief coach. But on her first day, they came to Janneke. She also knows a lot about all the other countries because the US played in the Pro League," he said.

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Having a colleague to discuss in-game tactics with, in his native tongue, was a great asset, Marijne felt. "Someone who speaks the same language when I have the head-set on is of great help. Because we have to communicate direct and fast. You want to talk to someone about the techniques. That's what I kind of missed," he said.

Schopman is aware that India is culturally different from the U.S., but she is not worried about adapting. "I went to the U.S. from Holland and I had to adapt a little to their culture," she said. "Of course there are differences but the sport and the love for the sport is what we all share. That's the common denominator."

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