Our strength is defence, says women’s hockey defender Deep (IANS Interview)

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New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS) The India women’s hockey team will rely on its vastly-improved defence, while the attackers will have to improve their finishing skills as the reigning Asian champions go for gold at the Asian Games in Indonesia, experienced defender Deep Grace Ekka has said.

Ranked ninth in the world, India will be the top-ranked team at the Asian Games, to be held in Indonesia from August 18. South Korea (10) and China (11) will be India’s main challengers at the Games.

The Indian women’s team, coached by Sjoerd Marijne, is in Pool B alongside title holder South Korea, Thailand, Kazakhstan and Indonesia. Pool A features China, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei.

India, who got a bronze medal at the 2014 edition, will open their campaign in Jakarta with a match against hosts Indonesia on August 19, followed by games against Kazakhstan (August 21), Korea (August 25) and Thailand (August 27).

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“In the last couple of years, we ave improved a lot. It shows in our world rank — which is a matter of great confidence going into the Asian Games,” Deep told IANS.

“Especially, in defence, we are strong and have a good structure. This is our strength. But we, as a team, have a lot of areas to improve. We need to improve our finishing skills as Asian Games will be tough and other teams will look to come hard on us since we had good results recently,” the Odisha player, who will have the support of Sunita Lakra, Deepika, Reena Khokhar and Gurjit Kaur in defence, added.

During the World Cup held in London earlier this month, India finished eighth. The defence really stood out for India, conceding only thrice. They held Olympic champions England 1-1, lost 0-1 to Ireland and drew with higher-ranked US 1-1 to qualify for the play-offs. They defeated Italy 3-0 to qualify for the Round-of-eight where they fell to Ireland in a penalty shoot-out after a goalless draw.

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“The World Cup threw a lot of positives for us. We played well against higher-ranked teams. So, we are confident looking ahead,” Deep said.

The team’s midfield will include Namita Toppo, Lilima Minz, Monika, Udita, Nikki Pradhan and Neha Goyal.

The forward-line will be led by the skipper Rani Rampal, who has over 200 international caps for India. Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navneet Kaur and Navjot Kaur will have the responsibility to score goals.

Winning the gold medal at the Asiad comes with an extra incentive in the form of a direct qualification to the Olympic Games. “This is an added motivation — all of us are aware of it,” Deep said.

“However, we don’t want to put too much stress in it. The matches will be tough, testing our physical and mental strengths. But we are ready for it.”

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(Abhishek Purohit can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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