Olympic berth at stake for India hockey eves

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Antwerp, June 19 (IANS) It will be make or break time for the Indian women’s hockey team as they begin their campaign for qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics when they take the field against hosts Belgium in their Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final opener here on Saturday.

India have been grouped with Australia, Belgium, New Zealand and Poland in Pool B of the 10-team tournament from where only a top-3 finish can guarantee them a spot in next year’s Games. Also, a top-4 finish here could mean qualification for the HWL Final to be played in Argentina in December.

India are bound to find it tough as apart from Poland at No.23, all teams in their pool are ranked above them. They will have to finish in the top-4 from the group to enter the quarter-finals where each team will be geared up to exhibit their best skills and put up their best show.

On the inaugural day, World No.13 India will lock horns with World No.12 Belgium.

“The team’s aim is a berth in the 2016 Olympics. The team has been preparing itself from the Hawke’s Bay Cup, keeping the HWL Semi-Final in mind. The players have improved their skills as well as strategies according to the competition level here,” India chief coach Mathias Ahrens said.

“Tomorrow will be a test for the entire team as it will give us a real time analysis of where we stand and how immediately to plan for the next clashes. The team is confident and are aware that they have to stick to the strategy and keep it simple. The idea will be not to allow pressure to seep in which gives an edge of reacting in minimal time.”

In recent times, India faced Belgium twice during the 2014 Champions Challenge 1 in Glasgow where they lost both matches. However, India will be looking forward to breaking their jinx and will aim at starting the tournament on a winning note.

They will vie to continue their good form by utilising the experience they gained from their practice matches and will be seen emphasising more on converting the maximum number of penalty corners into goals. On the other hand, Belgium are working hard to continue their winning streak against India.

“Tomorrow’s clash is very important as a win will boost the confidence level. The focus will only be on possession and not to lose control of the ball easily. If we do this, we can create pressure and have our chances to score the crucial goals,” India captain Ritu Rani said.

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