In their first assignment since winning the bronze medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games, the Indian women's hockey team is all set to feature in the Asian Champions Trophy, which will take place at Ranchi's Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh AstroTurf Hockey Stadium.
India will play the same teams that they encountered at the Asiad - China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. Japan are the defending champions with India winning their last title back in 2016.
Format and schedule
The tournament will begin on October 27 and the final is scheduled to be played on November 5.
All teams have been placed in a single pool with each team facing the others once. The top four teams will make it to the semifinals.
October 27: India vs Thailand at 8:30 pm.
October 28: India vs Malaysia at 8:30 pm.
October 30: India vs China at 8:30 pm.
October 31: India vs Japan at 8:30 pm.
November 1: India vs South Korea at 8:30 pm.
November 4: Semifinals and fifth/sixth place match.
November 5: Third/fourth place match and the final.
Chief coach Janneke Schopmann has not made any major changes to the squad that went to Hangzhou for the Asiad, with goalkeeper Savita Punia leading the team and defender Deep Grace Ekka being her deputy.
Goalkeepers: Savita Punia (captain), Bichu Devi Kharibam.
Defenders: Nikki Pradhan, Udita, Ishika Chaudhary, Deep Grace Ekka (vice-captain).
Midfielders: Nisha, Salima Tete, Neha, Navneet Kaur, Sonika, Monika, Jyoti, Baljeet Kaur
Forwards: Lalremsiami, Sangita Kumari, Deepika, Vandana Katariya
Replacement players: Sharmila Devi and Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke.
Road to Paris Olympics via Ranchi
India missed out on Olympic qualification after they lost to China in the Asian Games semifinal. They won the bronze eventually beating Japan but only the gold medal winners there had a ticket to Paris assured.
While the Asian Champions Trophy is not a qualification tournament, Schopman will hope her team can learn and grasp the conditions of the stadium and the city as Ranchi will host the Olympic Qualifiers next year in January.
The Indian men's and women's national teams are both used to playing their home matches in Bhubaneswar. Considering Ranchi is a new venue, the home team will need to get used to the conditions. This tournament is a perfect preparation for India before they come back for the all-important qualifiers in a few months from now.
Pressure on Schopman
After India finished fourth at the Olympics, and when Schopman took over from Sjoerd Marijne, the objective was to become the best team in Asia along with pushing for the titles at the global level. India were not the clear favourites for the gold at the Asiad but there was expectation that they would push hard for the gold. Facing China in the semifinal was a tough proposition and India crumbled under pressure, losing the game 4-0.
"We couldn't play to our strengths, the margin of defeat -- 4-0 was big. At the Asian level, four teams are more or less equal (India, China, Japan and South Korea). China were not at their best, but we didn't play at our best either," Savita told ESPN.
Schopman heaved a big sigh of relief when India went on to win the bronze but she knows that India are still not there in terms of becoming the continent's best team. Winning the Champions Trophy will do little to change it, considering China are here with a different set of players, but a title win will make Schopman and the players feel good. Another failure in terms of not making it to the final will definitely add more pressure on Schopman ahead of the crucial Olympic qualifiers.
Any change in style for India?
Unlikely, again considering the team that has been chosen. Schopman has been playing with the same set of core players for more than a year and the team's style has been consistent -- high work rate, high press and quick on the ball.
"There will be no change in our plans. We know what our strengths are. If there will be changes, it will be from the players. Like if I have given a six out 10 performance at the Asian Games, I will want to improve it to a seven or eight. The focus is on improving individual performances. We are playing at home after a while, where there will be a good crowd, so we'll need to adjust to the conditions," Savita said.
Four out of six teams are on the same level so expect matches to be a lot closer than Asian Games. It will be interesting to see how India respond when things are not going as per the plan. Under pressure and down by goals, India's response against China in Hangzhou was hardly inspiring. The pressure quotient is less in this tournament, but India will be playing in front of the home crowd which could work both ways for the team. Be it a dominating victory or a gritty fightback, Schopman will be happy to see both.
The Jharkhand Women's Asian Champions Trophy Ranchi will be live on the Sony Sports Network and Sony LIV.