The Indian women’s field hockey team had a year to remember after winning a dramatic play off against Team USA to book the final ticket to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. According to the girls the coaching team had improved fitness, stamina and strength.
The women earned their Tokyo spot in dramatic fashion, led by captain Rani Rampal. After taking a 5-0 lead in the first game, only to see the visitors wipe out the deficit in the first half itself in the second, it took a split-second shot from Rani to give the team the deciding winner. The win managed to soothe the disappointment the team had felt since the disappointment at 2018 Asian Games.
Coach, Marijne was critical of his team’s first half performance, against the US, though he claimed it was down to nerves India were playing a major competitive match at home for the first time in over four years.
You saw the pressure was not good enough. The ball possession was lost too fast, and we gave them too many opportunities. Luckily they didn’t make it, because had they converted, it would have been a different match,” said Marijne.
Marijne hailed his team’s 5-1 win against U.S. in their first Olympic qualifier as the most “effective” performance by his team since he became coach in 2017.
“You dream about those things, but I think we were really effective and that means a lot,” Marijne said after the match. “One of the best goals was from Navneet Kaur, and the speed of Sharmila Devi and Salima Tete, who are just 18 and 17 years old.
Sjoerd Marijne, the Dutchman, was appointed in 2017 moved sideways to the men’s team midway before being moved back to lead the women in 2018. Marijne is also a former field hockey player as he played ten years for Den Bosch in the Hoofdklasse.With scientific advisor Wayne Lombard as his assistant, made sure the women’s team went from strength to strength through the year, both physically and mentally. While Marijne used his full experience as a motivational speaker to work on the mental toughness of the team, Lombard is credited by the girls for their incredibly improved fitness, stamina and strength.
With the clever use of psychological aids to understand each player better, Marijne’s stewardship began with a victorious series against Spain and Ireland that set the wheels in motion ahead of the Series Finals in Japan. The women exacted revenge for the final defeat to Japan at Asiad and earned enough points to guarantee they played the Qualifiers at home, which made all the difference according to the girls.
The motivational line of Marijne was clear when he talked about the team’s chance of winning gold at the Olympics: “If you try to reach for the stars, you will fall on the highest mountain but if you want to be on the mountain, you will fall on the ground.”
Although India are the second lowest ranked team in the pool, Marijne is still confident of a putting on a good display in Tokyo.
“We are the second lowest ranked team in our pool but it doesn’t mean that we feel like that. It is also about how we play, how confident we are and if we have the confidence to play against better countries. The match against Netherlands will be really tough. Normally, they are the better team and have the advantage over us but it will be good to see how we do against them.”
India have been drawn in a group of death, Pool A for the Olympics. They will play the world No. 1 Netherlands, defending Olympic champions Great Britain, European powerhouse Germany, 2018 World Cup runners-up Ireland and South Africa. Pool B includes world No. 2 Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, China and Japan. The initial league will be played in a round-robin format. The top four teams qualify for a crossover quarter-finals.
The positive year for the Indian women’s team continued when they won the 3-Nations Tournament in Canberra towards the end of 2019. The team also won the Cantor Fitzgerald U21 International 4-Nations Tournament, notching 10 wins and two draws in their 16 matches.