Ahead of qualifiers against USA, India captain Rani Rampal opens up on importance of Tokyo Olympics

It was a historic moment for India Women’s hockey when they qualified for the Rio Olympics, courtesy England making it to the final of the EuroHockey Championships in London in August 2015. India had finished fifth in the women’s Hockey World League semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium a month earlier, and received a quota place in the Games, making it the first time in 36 years that the side has made it to the multi-sport event. Four years later, India have another chance to make it to 2020 Olympics in Tokyo – the only thing facing them is the upcoming challenge against the USA next month.

Skipper Rani Rampal recognises the mountain challenge up in front of her side, and believes that it is extremely important for the team to make it to Tokyo. Speaking in an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times at Fenesta Open Juniors 2019 event in New Delhi, Rampal says: “Olympic qualification is extremely important for us. We qualified for Olympics in 2016 after a wait of 36 years. We will make sure that we qualify for the multi-sport event every time around. Every player has a dream of playing at the Games, and win medals. Our team has the same aim.”

India are currently placed at the 9th position in the FIH World Rankings, while their opponents in next month’s Olympic qualifiers, USA, are ranked 13th. The last time the two teams met was in 2018 Women’s World Cup, which ended in a 1-1 stalemate. Rampal believes the recently concluded tour to Britain, in which India won one, lost one and drew three games, has prepared the side for the crucial encounters in November.

“I think England and USA are quite similar in their approach. They both have the same style of hockey. Both the teams are quite physical in their approach. The tour to Britain has helped us to prepare for the challenge. Playing against a stronger team has given us an idea as to how to approach the USA clash. We drew 1-1 against them last year. And we hope to improve this time around,” she said.

Speaking on the positives from the five-matches against the World Champions, Rampal added: “England were as strong as they were in 2016. But we felt a lot of difference in our side. In 2016, we were not as physically fit as we were this time around. I felt we were physically fitter than Britain. And in 3rd and 4th quarters, we dominated, when the players get tired. So, we performed a lot better than we did in 2016.”

But the forward was quick to add that the team needs to improve their finishing if they wish to prepare themselves for the upcoming Olympics qualifiers. “We created quite a few scoring chances. But we were not able to finish it. That is one area where we need to improve. But it’s good that we created quite a few chances, and it puts more pressure on the opponents. In the camp which begins from Monday in Bhubaneswar, we will be working towards our finishing and to utilise the chances we get.”

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