Skipper Savita admits Asian Champions Trophy-winning women’s hockey team have their task cut out in January
India women’s hockey captain Savita Punia. Pic/Hockey India
Around a month back, India women’s hockey captain Savita Punia, 33, was inconsolable in Hangzhou, China, after her team lost 0-4 to the host outfit in the semi-finals of the Asian Games. While a gold medal would have guaranteed them a berth at the 2024 Paris Olympics, the Indian women, who were touted as favourites at the outset, could only manage a bronze.
From pain to gain
On Sunday, Savita was all smiles after lifting the Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) title at the Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh AstroTurf Hockey Stadium in Ranchi. The smile though disappears with one mention of that Asian Games semi-final. “The Asian Games is a big tournament and that semi-final defeat was heartbreaking. It hurts even today when I think of that moment. I remember, we were in tears because we were extremely upset. It was our dream to win that Asian Games gold and qualify for Paris and that defeat shattered our dream,” Punia told mid-day over the phone from her home in Haryana, 48 hours after beating Japan 4-0 in the ACT final.
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The ACT, she says, is a gift from her team to all Indian hockey supporters, who were disappointed when they failed in Hangzhou. “At the ACT, the teams were the same as the Asian Games, so we had to win to prove a point. Every player was hungry to excel. We were sad in Hangzhou and so were our supporters; this title is for all those who were dejected when we lost that semi-final.”
Punia & Co have a shot at redemption with the FIH Olympic Qualifiers scheduled at the same venue in Ranchi from January 13 to 19, 2024. World No. 6 India will compete with Germany (No. 5), New Zealand (9), Japan (11), Chile (14), USA (15), Italy (19) and Czech Republic (25) with the top three teams qualifying for Paris. “The Olympic Qualifiers is a do-or-die event for us. In fact, immediately after we won the ACT, our coach [Janneke Schopman] told us to forget about it and start thinking about the Olympic Qualifiers. It’ll be a tough tournament with teams like Germany and New Zealand in the fray, but we have nothing to lose. Our team deserves to go to the Paris Olympics at any cost,” concluded Savita.