Feature

Indian women's hockey at Tokyo 2020: Know your opponents

A look at what the Indian women’s team can expect at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

By Subhayan Dutta and Saurabh Sankar ·

Reigning Olympic champions, the reigning World Champions and two upcoming powerhouses of women’s hockey.

That's the draw the Indian eves have been handed for the 2020 Tokyo Games, who will be pitted against the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, Ireland and South Africa. Here’s a look at what could be in store for Rani Rampal and co. at the Summer Olympics last year.

The Netherlands

Match date: July 25th 2020, Oi Hockey Stadium

Currently ranked number one in the world, the Netherlands women’s team will undoubtedly prove to be a stern test for the Indian eves. They finished as runners-up in the 2016 Rio Games, and have won the women’s World Cup in 2014, retaining that title in 2018 as well. Coached by the experienced Femke Kooijman, the Dutch have also performed spectacularly in the EuroHockey Nations Championships, winning back-to-back gold medals in 2017 and 2019, with their win in the latter competition confirming their berth for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The main threat for the Indians will be the midfield engine of Lidewij Welten, who was nominated for the FIH Player of the Year award due to her stellar showings this season. Welten was joint top-scorer in the 2019 EuroHockey Nations Championships with five goals, which included a brace in the semifinals as well as a goal in the final. Apart from Welten, the Indian defence would need to be at their best to keep out Eva de Goede, who was the FIH Player of the Year for 2018, and Frederique Malta, the second highest scorer of the 2019 women’s FIH Pro League.

The Indian eves haven’t faced the Netherlands in a competitive game since 2015, but the head-to-head prior to that is heavily favouring the European heavyweights. India’s solace this time around however could come from the fact that their coach Sjoerd Marijne formerly managed the Dutch side and could have a trick up his sleeve to upset the reigning World Champions at the 2020 Summer Games.

Germany

Match date: July 27th 2020, Oi Hockey Stadium

The German women’s team clinched the bronze medal at Rio 2016, and have been in the mix at the "business end" of tournaments ever since.

They won a bronze in the 2019 FIH Pro League and were runners-up in the EuroHockey National Championships held a few months back. The German team booked their ticket for the Olympics with a 9-0 rout against Italy over two legs, and seem destined to continue that fine form come Tokyo 2020.

The main threat for Rani Rampal and co. against this German side comes via penalty corners, with 22-year-old Nike Lorenz excelling as a drag flicker. Lorenz has 24 goals to her name in just over a 100 appearances and has been nominated for the FIH Rising Star of the Year award this season for her brilliant performances in the FIH Pro League.

Apart from Lorenz, forward Charlotte Stapenhorst would be a handful for the Indian defence come the 2020 Tokyo Games. The 24-year-old scored six times in the women’s FIH Pro League, with her quick movements causing all sorts of problems for defenders.

Great Britain

Match date: July 29th 2020, Oi Hockey Stadium

The defending champions Great Britain are ranked fifth in the world rankings and that somewhat hints at their plummeting form in the last three years. However, having previously won two bronze medals at the Summer Olympics and a silver medal in the Champions Trophy, the British side surely is a big tournament team.

The likes of Maddie Hinch, Laura Unsworth and Giselle Ansley were all part of the victorious 2016 Rio Olympics squad, and would hope to galvanize this younger Great Britain side in a bid to defend their crown.

The Indian women’s side played Great Britain in a three-game Test series prior to their Olympic qualifiers. Rani Rampal and Co. managed to get two draws in that series, while they lost the other game 3-1. Britain hold the advantage in their overall head-to-head record, but with the Indian side showing great signs of progress in the recent past, one can hope for brighter things at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Ireland

Match date: July 31th 2020, Oi Hockey Stadium

Getting invited to play the 1980 Games, when the Olympics opened its door for women’s field hockey, was the closest that the Irish women came to playing hockey at the Games until recently.

However, Irish women’s hockey has taken a turn for the better at the start of the decade. They narrowly missed out on an Olympic berth in 2016 but made sure there were no such hiccups come Tokyo 2020, as they beat Canada 4-3 in a penalty shootout after two stalemates in the FIH Olympic qualifiers a few months back.

Ireland performed admirably in the 2019 EuroHockey National Championships, managing a 1-1 draw against Rio Games bronze medallists Germany. The Irish team, however, have struggled against India in the recent past, as they were beaten 0-3 in their most recent meeting which saw defender Gurjit Kaur score a brace.

The Olympic Games, however, could be a different proposition, and with both sides looking to make a mark in that marquee tournament, expect a closely contested clash when India take on Ireland.

South Africa

Match date: August 1st, 2020

The Proteas had qualified for every edition of the Olympics for 12 years since 2000, before their form ran dry in 2016. However, the best they could do was a ninth-place finish in 2004. A very similar scenario could be drawn for South Africa’s World Cup and Commonwealth Games stints as well, over the years.

The Indian women’s hockey side, however, has been a regular opponent for South Africa as they have faced them 13 times over the last 17 years. And the sides’ changing dominance could easily be mapped from the outcomes. After India were superior in the first decade of the millennium, South Africa had a brief winning streak from 2011 to 2014, before India maintained the parity again.

India will be heading into this contest as favourites, but they will be wary of this free-scoring South African side, who scored sixteen goals without conceding a single one in their qualification tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Having amassed 19 goals in 21 appearances this past year, midfielder Lillian du Plessis could be the main threat for the Indian side at the 2020 Tokyo Games.