Rio 2016: India Eye an Encore Against Japan in Women's Hockey Opener
A file photo of India and Japan women hockey players in action during a match. (Getty Images)
Rio de Janeiro: After a fairytale run to the Rio Games following a gap of 36 years, an upbeat India will now look to begin from where they had left against Japan when they clash in their women's hockey opener in a pool B match of the XXXI Olympiad here on Sunday.
The women's team had beaten the same opponents in a classification match in June last year to finish fifth in the World League semifinals and qualify for the Olympics, for the first time after Moscow 1980.
10th ranked Japan may be three notches higher but the women in blue, coached by Aussie Neil Hawgood, are hopeful of a good start to take the momentum forward.
"The coach has told us to give your best in the first match, that will set the tone for the remainder league matches," defender Deep Grace Ekka, who was part of the Asian Games Incheon 2014 bronze medal winning team, told PTI on the eve of the match.
With 106 caps to her name, Deep will form the backbone of India's defence along with captain Sushila Chanu who took over the reigns after veteran Ritu Rani was dropped less than a month before the Olympics for attitude problems.
"It will not be a problem. We have been practising together and know each other well. We are just focused to do well tomorrow," she added.
Having captained the Indian team in Ritu's absence during their tour of Australia earlier this year, it will be a big test for the Manipur defender who had led the Indian junior to a bronze medal finish at the Junior World Cup in Germany three years ago.
The forward will be reliant on Rani Rampal who was the top-scorer when they clinched the Olympics berth while goalkeeper Savita Punia will also look to stand tall under the bar.
Having coached the Indian women's from July 2012 to November 2014, a phase when they had won the Asiad bronze and a silver in the Asian Championship 2013, Hawgood will look to replicate the success in his second stint.
"The second stint is the same, progress the group to another level is important. Our goal is simple, first to make the last eight and that means winning two games," said Hawgood, who joined back the team in November last year.
India are the lowest ranked side in the pool B that have second and third-ranked Argentina, Australia, while England and Team USA will also be formidable forces as they will have their task cutout.
"When we achieve that it is just one game you have to win to have a chance to proceed, that is what we want to do, put ourselves into that position."
India had finished fourth out of six teams in the 1980 Olympics -- the only edition they had qualified for before making it to the Rio Games.
India: Goalkeeper: Savita Punia; Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka, Deepika (vice-captain), Namita Toppo, Sunita Lakra (defender), Sushila Chanu (captain). Midfielders: Navjot Kaur, Monika, Renuka Yadav, Lilima Minz. Forwards: Anuradha Devi, Poonam Rani, Vandana Kataria, Rani Rampal, Preeti Dubey, Nikki Pradhan. On standby: Rajani Etimarpu, H Lalruat Feli.
Japan: Goalkeeper: Asano Sakiyo; Defenders: Nagisa Hayashi, Maki Sakaguchi, Ayaka Nishimura, Emi Nishikori, Mayumi Ono, Yu Asai; Miyuki Nakagawa, Akane Shibata, Yukari Mano, Hazuki Nagai, Hazuki Yuda; Forwards: Kana Nomura, Aki Mitsuhashi, Yuri Nagai, Mie Nakashima, Motomi Kawamura, Minami Shimizu.