After an impressive show by the men’s hockey team, Indian women are upbeat to continue the engagement with fans’ motivation ahead of the Hockey World League Semi-Final, starting 8 July in Johannesburg.

Ahead of the big tournament that would decide India’s qualification for the Women’s World Cup next year, thestatesman.com caught up with the leading lady Rani Rampal and coach Sjoerd Marijne for an exclusive chat.

Coach Marijne, who played for the Netherlands in the past, called the Indian eves “focused” and revealed how they have been preparing for the mega-event.

“We played two practice matches against Under-18 boys. Playing matches is always good. We practiced at high altitude also. I believe, we have everything to prepare ourselves for the tournament,” Marijne said.

The 43-year-old Dutchman said that the team has acute topics like structured defence and ball possession to focus on. “If we do these things well, we’ll win the matches,” he added.

Captain Rani joined in showcasing her confidence in the experienced Indian squad. “Everyone is working hard on fitness and we believe that we will do well in the tournament,” Rani said.

India recently suffered a 0-5 drubbing from New Zealand in a hockey test series. Rani gracefully accepted that there were mistakes that needed to be rectified ahead of the World Cup qualifier event.

“We have analysed and worked on the mistakes we made on the New Zealand tour and tried to make sure we don’t repeat them again,” Rani said.

The 22-year-old striker from Haryana continued: “We have worked on our fitness, ball possession, attack and defence as these are the areas that help in conceding less and scoring more goals. We have worked on positioning as well because we got to know that positioning failed us in New Zealand.”

Marijne blamed individual mistakes behind India’s humiliating defeat in New Zealand. “We conceded a lot of goals there. But moreover, those were individual mistakes. The best thing about mistakes is that we learn from them and prepare ourselves for the next level.”

“I’ve confidence in the team as they have worked really hard after the New Zealand defeat and gained favourable fitness. Good preparations always bring confidence and that helps in winning matches,” the coach expressed.

India are scheduled to play the hosts South Africa in the first match of the Hockey World League Semi-Final on 8 July. Besides South Africa, USA, Chile and Argentina have also been grouped along with India.

Both the coach and the captain strongly believe that India have a tough opponent to face in their opening match. However, the competition will remain the same in other group stage matches as well.

“The World League here is much competitive than it is in Brussels. It will be tough but we watch match by match,” Marijne said, comparing the league with the other one staring in Brussels on Saturday.

Rani said India’s strategy for the tough opening match. “We’ll try not to give them any space to score and put counter attack at the same time. As penalty corner goals have been our strength in the past, we’ll focus there against South Africa,” she said.

“I am very much confident with the current squad as every individual is quite unbeatable on their position. If we play as a single unit, we can beat any team in the tournament,” Rani added.

Marijne hailed the Indian side under the captaincy of Rani, saying her past impressive show made Hockey India name her captain again.

“Rani has been the captain of the team a few times. She has done really well in the past and that’s why she has been made the captain again. But Rani can’t do it herself. She needs players around her. We have Sushila, Ritu Rani, who help her. These are experienced girls that give us an edge over others in the league,” he added.

Rani echoed Marijne’s voice saying: “We have a blend of young and experienced players. Things always work when both seniors and young ones play with the best combination.”

The celebrated woman striker believes the team should play without extra pressure of the World Cup qualification. “Yes, it’s a big tournament and we want to qualify for the World Cup through this. However, taking extra pressure over this fact will make us fall and we won’t be able to play our natural game.”

Rani urged Indian fans, who showed great support to men’s hockey team that recently finished sixth in the HWL Semis, to continue cheering for the women as well.

“Like they supported men’s hockey team, we expect the same encouragement. We’ll try to put best foot forward and live up to fans’ expectations,” Rani concluded.