Ranchi (Jharkhand), Jan 11: Gearing up for a "challenging" tournament in the absence of some experienced players, Indian women's hockey team captain Savita Punia is banking on strong support from the hockey lovers of the city and the hard work put in by her team to sail through to the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifier starting on Saturday here and grab a ticket to Paris 2024.
India are going into the event without experienced players like Deep Grace Ekka, Sushila Chanu, Vandana Katariya and Gurjiot Kaur.
Addressing a press conference two days ahead of the start of the eight-team FIH Olympic Qualifiers, Savita said the team takes heart from the support it got from the local hockey lovers during the Asian Champions Trophy here a few months back and said the team is excited about playing in Ranchi once again.
India are in Group B along with New Zealand, the United States and Italy as eight teams in the fray have been divided into two groups of four each. Pool A comprises World No.5 Germany, 2018 Asian Games gold medallist Japan, Chile and the Czech Republic. These eight teams are fighting for the three spots available at Ranchi for the Paris Olympic Games later this year.
On paper, Germany should clinch one of the three spots up for grabs in Ranchi, while India, New Zealand, USA and Japan will be fighting for the two remaining berths from this event.
"We have had a very good preparation for this event and we have done our best, both individually and as a team, to prepare for this event. The coaches have helped us work on all aspects of the game that needed attention," said Savita.
The Indian skipper, the main goalkeeper of the team and the most experienced member of this squad said they would try their best to qualify for the Paris Olympic Games. She said the team is focusing on their own performance and matches and not thinking too much about the opponents.
"We will try whatever is in our hands to make it to Paris and also do well in the Olympics. But before that we will have to qualify for it and that is what we are concentrating on at this moment. We are focussing on our game and we are preparing well. We have tried our utmost to prepare for this event," she added.
The 33-year-old, who has made 266 appearances for the country so far, said they respect their opponent teams but have plans in place to tackle them. "If it is the Olympic Qualifiers, things will be tough, it will not be easy, it be a big challenge for us because all the teams that are here are quite strong. If they have reached this stage, they have to be strong and just like us, they will try their best. We will focus on our strengths and work on our weaknesses," she said.
Asked about India's 4-2 defeat to Germany in a pre-event practice match a couple of days back, Savita said at this moment they are only thinking about their next opponent USA and not Germany. "There is time for the match against Germany. At this moment our focus is on the USA. Practice matches are basically meant to judge where we stand and to test a few things. I am happy that the team played well against Germany for three of the four quarters of the match," she added. (IANS)