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The Hindu: Asian Games 2018 women hockey: high stakes for India in finals (8/31/2018)
The Hindu: Asian Games 2018 women’s hockey: high stakes for India in finals

Uthra Ganesan

A win against Japan on Friday would hand India the ticket to Tokyo 2020.

Coach Sjoerd Marijne and the Indian women’s hockey team, led by Rani Rampal, are well aware of what they are fighting for.

The last time they faced Japan, they thrashed the opposition 4-1 three months back. It was one of the rare wins for the team over an opponent who has had the better of their exchanges over the years in international hockey.

Ticket to Tokyo

Friday’s final would not be anything like that. For one, there is a lot more at stake, specially for India, who could become the first team to book its ticket to Tokyo Olympics here. Japan would have no such pressure, qualifying as host. For another, there is a reputation to protect for India. They have been in red-hot form so far, before being tested by a doughty China in the semifinals, and the favourite tag sits heavy.

“It means everything for the girls. They have worked so hard six days a year for so many years to be here, it can be a life changer for them. I was very emotional today that we won because I know all the effort the girls have put in,” a drained coach Sjoerd Marijne said after India entered the final.

But before that final step, and creating history, India would have to control not just the ball on field but their minds too. In terms of ability, India is certainly ahead of Japan. It would also be a challenge given that Japan played a lot more attacking game, something that suits India, but also makes it difficult to sit back and slow the pace. India would also be wary of Japan’s working of the flanks and ability to change them quickly and hope to cut down on space.

Rani Rampal confident

The one thing that has marked India in recent times is its discipline and structure regardless of the score. On Wednesday, the first held up; the second suffered before picking up a little after half time. Captain Rani Rampal admitted the stage could be overwhelming for youngsters new to the pressure but took the onus on herself and other seniors. “We have to calm them down, tell them to take it as just another match, not worry about the tournament but just the game. It is our responsibility and our youngsters stepped up beautifully. I am sure they will do it again,” she asserted.

Japan upset defending champion Korea in the semifinals to prove it was not in just to make up the numbers. The fact that this would be Japan’s fourth final appearance with no gold to show yet could be motivating enough for it to up the ante. As Marijne explained, it was not about tactics but mentality. “We coach all emotions, we prepare for everything. But in the end, it’s about the moment,” he said.

Come Friday, Rani & co. would be hoping to own the moment.

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