‘Anything is possible’ if Indian hockey women’s team reach quarters at 2020 Olympics

The head coach of the women’s team believes reaching the knockouts will be key and then it really is anybody’s game.

By Rahul Venkat ·

The Indian hockey women’s team enjoyed a fruitful year in 2019.

They competed against some of the top teams in Great Britain, Spain and South Korea and it culminated in a second-consecutive appearance at the Olympics.

Head coach, Sjoerd Marijne has worked hard behind the scenes with the Indian hockey women’s team ever since his arrival in December 2016, a few months after they had ended last at Rio.

It was an overwhelming experience at a big event, and they are no doubt better off for it. However, their goals this time around are clear.

“Our aim is to reach the quarter-finals at the 2020 Olympics,” stated Sjoerd Marijne in an interview with the Olympic Channel.

“From there on, anything can happen. Obviously, the Netherlands is the best team at the moment but after that, there are really a lot of teams that can win against one another.”

Indian hockey women’s team qualified for the Tokyo Games under chief coach Sjoerd Marijne. Photo: Hockey India

The confirmed spot for India at Olympics 2020 itself came about in a nervy manner, wherein the eves conceded four goals in the first half to wipe out their first-leg advantage against the USA.

The Indian hockey women’s team regrouped well and scored a crucial goal through skipper Rani Rampal in the second half to go through on aggregate and Sjoerd Marijne was honest enough to admit that the first meeting post that was one of anger.

However, he was impressed nonetheless with the fighting spirit.

“A major take away from that match was the team's ability to fight back. That is the quality I really like about this team,” he had said then.

All focus on 2020 Olympics

In a way, the scare against the USA came at the right time as it toughened up the Indian hockey women’s team mentally. The logical next step would be to ensure that every member of the team is ready for the challenge by being in the best shape possible.

The team is currently undergoing a training camp at the Sports Authority of India campus in Bengaluru for that very purpose.

“Everything from hereon is focused towards the 2020 Olympics,” he said.

“This is a physical conditioning camp. These four weeks are about reaching the next step on the physical fitness aspect and while we have come a long way in the past three years, there is always room for improvement and this is the perfect moment to do it too.”

Developing set-piece specialists

The Indian hockey women’s team though did not have the best start to the Olympic year, winning two and losing the other two matches against New Zealand and another against Great Britain.

They were caught out by Megan Hull’s two goals from penalty corners and some may perceive that aspect to be a weakness for the Indian hockey women’s team, considering Gurjit Kaur is the only specialist drag-flicker in the side, but Marijne disagrees.

“Of course, we are helping Gurjit get sharper with her skills but it's not like she is the only one who can do it,” he admitted. 

“We are trying other girls out as well for that role, but you can understand that I cannot share with you who they are,” Marijne chuckled. 

A Dutch duo to outwit them all

While Sjoerd Marijne has been an influential person in the background, the Indian hockey women’s team also made a very crucial appointment in the form of another Dutch mastermind in Janneke Schopman as the analytical coach.

The Beijing 2008 gold medallist and Athens 2004 silver medallist’s reputation speaks for itself and her experience has been a valuable addition to the side ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

Schopman and Marijne will be a good coaching partnership for the Indian eves. Photo: Hockey India

More importantly, Janneke Schopman is someone who Marijne knows very well, which helped her blend in easily. 

“Six months (before the 2020 Olympics) is not the best time to get to know someone as important as the analytical coach, and so Janneke was the best person for the job.”

“Her experiences as a player in the Olympics help her empathize with the girls and they also seem to be receptive to her, asking a lot of questions and realize what a big opportunity it is to learn from someone like her,” said Marijne.

The Indian hockey women’s team seem to be in a good frame of mind going into the 2020 Olympics, and while 2019 was an excellent build-up year to the showpiece, they will hope 2020 is just as good.