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India eye winning start in junior women’s Asia Cup hockey

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New Delhi: All fired up after a month-long preparatory camp, India’s junior women’s hockey team will aim to make a confident start when it takes on South Korea in its opening pool match of the 7th Asia Cup in Changzhou, China on Saturday.

The young Indian eves will face China, Malaysia, Singapore and DPR Korea in the pool phase of the tournament, which is a qualifier for next year’s FIH Junior World Cup.

Captained by star player Rani, the team consists of several experienced players who even represent the senior team. Rani will lead the forward line along with Anupa Barla, Punam Barla, Navneet Kaur and Sonika. Rani had played a very important role to steer the team in the recently-concluded Volvo Invitational U-21 Tournament, where the side finished third.

Vice-Captain Navjot Kaur and the talented Lily Chanu will mobilise the midfield area to provide maximum support to the defence-line as well as create opportunities for the forward players. Navjot, Chanu, Lilima Minz and Renuka Yadav represent the senior team as well.

The defence boasts of hugely experienced Deep Grace Ekka, Namita Toppo and penalty corner specialist Jaspreet Kaur. Led by goalkeeper Inderpreet Kaur, the back-line is quite capable to blunt attacks from DPR Korea as well as other teams in the tournament.

Both India and Korea will clash against each other for the first time on the opening match and it will be a challenge for them to decode each others’ game.

Though the Indian eves are more experienced, they will can hardly take their opponents lightly.

Speaking on the first match against DPR Korea, Chief Coach Mathias Ahrens stated: “We have never seen them play but we have the edge in terms of a good and strong team along with experience but we still will not take the match easy as the opponent may have the surprise element and can stun us. We have to watch their every move and play accordingly.”

“We are making sure that there are no loopholes in the team and in the process avoid every room for error. Players have been practising for the last one month and been working on reducing their earlier mistakes,” Ahrens said.

Speaking after a training session, Captain Rani Rampal echoed the coach’s sentiment. “It’s time to implement our strategies on field and perform our level best for the opening match. The girls are well prepared and confident to take on DPR Korea. We don’t know how they play and that brings the additional challenge of a surprise element. We will start aggressively, take the attack to the opponents and aim to score initially. The idea is to have good ball possession whilst keeping the pressure on the opponents. We are geared-up and looking forward to the match,” she said.

Nine teams will participate in the tournament.

PTI