Bengaluru, Jan 4 (IANS) Indian women’s hockey team goalkeeper Savita feels the side has a strong core group to manage the rigours of a busy 2022, adding that the first priority will be to do well in the Asia Cup this month to set the tone for bigger tournaments later in the year.
The Indian women’s team will begin the year with the Asia Cup in Muscat, Oman this month. They are the defending champions and will vie with seven continental teams — China, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore — for the top honours.
The Asia Cup will be played in a two-pool format with cross-over classification matches. The continental event is the qualifying tournament for the FIH Women’s World Cup 2022 to be held in Spain and the Netherlands in July.
Teams finishing in the top-four in Muscat will qualify for the World Cup.
“In 2017, we won the Asia Cup to earn direct qualification for the FIH Women’s World Cup in London. I feel that win was one of the stepping stones for us to establish steady growth in our performance in the past four years. Definitely starting the season with a good show in the Asia Cup will give us the right momentum as we play back-to-back tournaments,” said Savita, who is also the vice-captain of the team.
With the Birmingham Commonwealth Games scheduled in July and the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China (the 2024 Paris Olympics qualification event) two months later, Savita says the strength of the core group should come in handy during the hectic season. India will also play the FIH Women’s Nations Cup in December in Valencia, Spain.
“No doubt, it will be a very hectic season and we have begun our preparations for it in all earnestness. We also have a very young and promising batch of players who have come into the camp of 60 players and it will be interesting to see who will eventually make it to the final core group of 33. Having a good core group in such a hectic year will mean a lot in terms of ensuring our performance doesn’t drop whenever someone needs to fill in for another player,” said Savita.
Savita said the players were excited about competing in the FIH Hockey Pro League for the first time. Following the Asia Cup, the women’s side will move to Bhubaneswar, Odisha where they will play the home matches in FIH Hockey Pro League.
“I think a lot of us are looking forward to the matches. This will be our first outing in this prestigious League and we are absolutely looking forward to playing some of the best teams in the world. Needless to say, we are eager to play in Odisha again and to have world’s no.1 side Netherlands travel to India for these matches is something we had never imagined,” said Savita.
India will take on the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and England in Bhubaneswar following which they will travel to Belgium and the Netherlands to play against Belgium, Argentina and USA in June.
“I feel the Pro League matches will provide us with the best exposure ahead of the World Cup (in July). Last time, we made it to the quarterfinals for the first time in many decades. With our recent performance in the Olympics, and the support we garnered, we need to live up to the expectations by doing well in these major competitions to keep the interest alive in Women’s hockey,” opined Savita.