Harpal Singh Bedi / New Delhi
Union sports minister Kiren Rijiju on Tuesday hailed the Women’s hockey team for winning the FIH Series Finals in Hiroshima, Japan saying that they “ made India proud” with their spectacular showing.
With this win, India has moved one step closer towards qualifying for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, as they will now participate in the 14-team FIH Olympic Qualifiers to be held later this year. The qualifiers will be a bilateral two-match series, from where the winners of each of the seven matches will qualify for the Olympics.
Felicitating the team here after its arrival from Hiroshima, the minister said “The women’s hockey team has played very well, and made us proud. I congratulate the team for its excellent performance. The ministry will extend all support to the players, both individually and as a team.
“I will visit their training centre in Bengaluru to meet their coaches and discuss the requirements of the team. India has a good chance of qualifying for the Olympics and winning a medal in hockey.” Rijiju said
India remained unbeaten in the tournament scoring 29 goals and conceding just four. The team led by striker Rani Rampal beat Uruguay (4-1), Poland (5-0), and Fiji (11-0) in the round robin matches and registered a 4-2 win against Chile in the Semi-Final followed by a 3-1 victory against home team Japan in the Final.
Penalty corner specialist Gurjit Kaur was India’s leading goal scorer in the tournament with 11 goals. While Rani Rampal added one more accolade to her growing profile, as she was adjudged the Player of the Tournament.
“We had lost to Japan in the 18th Asian Games Final last year and had to settle for the Silver Medal. This win against them, beating Japan in their home ground was like a sweet revenge,” said Rani.
“The only thing I told the girls before the Final was that, we should not have any regret after the Final or ever feel that we could have played better. We came here for 500 ranking points so we need to play as a team with all our heart and ensure we succeed,” said Rani of the team meeting on the eve of the Final.
Having won this tournament convincingly Rani and her team mates are hopeful of playing the Olympic Qualifying event later this year in front of a home crowd. “Having won this tournament, our chances of playing in front of a home crowd and having that home advantage is realistic and we have waited for this moment for a very long time.
The last time Indian Women played in front of a home crowd was in the 2012 Hockey World League Round 2 in New Delhi and many of the players from the current Indian team are eager to play at home for the first time,” Rani said.
During the tournament the team was faced with challenges not only on the field but off the field as well, when they learnt of the sad demise of striker Lalremsiami’s father.
“This happened just before our Semi-Final against Chile. The mood in the team changed from being excited about the semis to being grim. It was important we lifted ourselves from this tragedy and gave emotional support to Lalremsiami. She chose to stay on and play the Semi Final and Final as it was her father’s wish to see the Indian Team qualify for the Olympics. We are now one step away from making this dream come true and we will remain focused on this goal,” Rani added
The team will return to National Coaching Camp in SAI, Bengaluru on 15 July for the preparations for Olympic Test event in Japan while the goalkeepers will return on 8 July for a special goalkeepers week-long camp before their compatriots join them for the National Camp.