2022 has been a bit of a mixed bag for the Indian women’s hockey team that triggered plenty of ‘hope and excitement’ following their ‘fighting but surprising’ fourth-place finish at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics – the Janneke Schopan-coached Indian outfit attained a ‘some kind of a high’ with a third-place finish in the 2021-22 FIH Pro League – a performance that was considered ‘significant’ given the fact that the world number eight side was only featuring in the league as one of the replacement teams alongside Spain for Australia and New Zealand.
Of course, it cannot be denied that many top teams such as the Netherlands and Germany fielded second-string sides in the Pro League but no one is taking anything away from the Indian women, who deserve praise for pipping full-strength Spain 2-1 and subsequently pulling off a 3-3 draw against world number two anf full-strength Argentina and then going on to win the shootout 2-1 at Rotterdam – interestingly, India defeated the Netherlands 2-1 but it was their second or third-string Dutch side – it was their first win over the Dutch in 48 years (they had last won against the Netherlands at the inaugural 1974 World Cup).
Many expected the Indian hockey eves to build on their Pro League performance in the 2022 World Cup held at Amstelveen and Terrassa but they came a cropper, even failing to make it to the quarterfinals – finishing ninth. Perhaps the World Cup campaign was a ‘reality check’ for the Indian eves as to where they stand in world hockey when the top sides feature their first-choice eleven in major tourneys.
The Savita Punia-captained Indian women upped their performance at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, managing to reach the semifinals – they evoked the memories of the 2021 Tokyo Olympic quarterfinals when they locked horns with Australia, fighting hard and pulling in a late equalizer only to go out of the semifinal in the shootout- a route they took to prevail over New Zealand in the play-off tie to clinch the bronze – their first podium finish in 16 years.
One can say that the Indians have a relatively easy pool (Pitted in Pool B) where they counter the likes of 11th ranked Japan, 14th ranked Chile and 20th ranked South Africa. Having said that, Chile are one of the improving teams around – they surprised Ireland 1-0 at the 2022 World Cup and even made the Netherlands sweat holding them to 1-1 before two late Dutch goals saw them win it 3-1. So by any strecth of imagination Chile won’t be a pushsover for India in the tournament opener. India should back themselves against Japan – of course they were comprehensively beaten 0-2 by Japan in the 2022 Asia Cup, but the Blueskirts posted a facile 3-1 win over them in the 2022 World Cup. Like their men’s team, South Africa women are making steady improvement and it won’t be a stroll in the pitch for India.
So much is at stake with the winner securing a ticket to the 2023-24 FIH Women’s Pro League, rankings could go out of the window as eight teams slug it for the top spot.