Birmingham, Jul 28: A podium finish on its mind, the Indian women’s hockey team would look to leave its disastrous World Cup campaign behind and start afresh against Ghana in the Commonwealth Games opener on Friday.
The Indians are clubbed in Pool A alongside hosts England, Canada, Wales and Ghana, while Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Scotland and Kenya complete Pool B.
Like their male counterparts, the Indian women returned empty-handed from the last edition of the Games in Gold Coast, finishing fourth after being routed 0-6 by England in the bronze medal play-off match.
Going into the latest Games, the Indians were troubled by their below-par outing in the recently concluded World Cup in Spain and the Netherlands, where the Savita Punia-led side finished a disappointing ninth.
Now the Janneke Schopman-coached side would be desperate to prove that it is a far better outfit than what the recent results indicate. They would be itching to prove that the historic fourth place finish in last year’s Tokyo Olympics wasn’t a fluke.
The Indian women would also be hoping to break their 16-year medal brought in the Games. India’s last medal — a silver — in CWG came in 2006 Melbourne. The only other medal that the Indian women bagged in the Games since hockey’s introduction in 1998 was a gold in the 2002 edition in Manchester.
“We were disappointed with our performance in the last edition of the tournament, but this time around we will definitely look to do better,” captain Savita said during a virtual press conference on Thursday.
“We are confident about our chances to clinch a Medal and a resounding win against Ghana will provide the perfect start to our 2022 Commonwealth Games campaign.”
Besides the brilliant Olympic campaign, the Indians would also be boosted by their creditable third place finish in their maiden Pro League outing this season.
But to finish on the podium, the ninth ranked Indians will have to get the better of world No.3 Australia, fifth ranked England and world No. 8 New Zealand, who are also strong medal contenders.
In the last edition of the Games, New Zealand won the gold ahead of Australia and the Trans-Tasman rivals would fancy their chances in this Games too.
Australia have dominated women’s hockey in CWG, bagging as many as four gold medals, one silver and a bronze.
While it is expected to be a cakewalk for India in their opening two pool games against world No. 30 Ghana, and world No. 24 Wales (on Saturday), Savita’s side will face its first real challenge against England on August 2, before finishing their pool campaign against No.15 Canada.
With the top two teams from each pool progressing into the semifinals, India and England are clear favourites from Pool A, unless something drastic happens.
But the recent World Cup has brought to light some chinks in India’s armour, which they need to address quickly.
For the Indian women, while penalty corner conversions remain a major concern, the forwards too needs to pull up their socks.
In the World Cup, the Indians created plenty of scoring chances from open play as well as penalty corners, but squandered most of the opportunities.
Coach Schopman would be expecting a much-improved show from her forwards and drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur.
India vice-captain Deep Grace Ekka said: “We will look to outplay Ghana from the first whistle to make sure we can beat them as convincingly as we did last time.”
“We will look to move the ball quickly so that we can penetrate the Ghanian defence. For the last couple of years, we have been playing an aggressive style and we would look to continue in the same fashion.”
In the other Pool A match of the day, Canada will take on Wales. (PTI)
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