Tokyo: Expectations are running high among hockey lovers in Odisha as the epoch-making Indian women's hockey team, of which Odia girl Deep Grace Ekka is the vice-captain, is going to take on the mighty Argentina in the semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics today.
Players at Panposh hockey stadium in Rourkela are optimistic of a victory today.
“I hope the women’s team would script another history by clinching a silver medal today in the semi-final against the powerful Argentina.
The team must give its best today as the men’s team lost to Belgium in the semi-finals. The women would take to the ground with much confidence and bigger enthusiasm for a revenge of the Men’s debacle. The match promises to be a high voltage neck-to-neck battle today,” said Lazarus Barla, a former Olympian who we caught up at the Panposh Hockey stadium in Rourkela.
“As I know Deep Grace Ekka is a strong and confident player. As an ace defender, she would give her best efforts to protect the team from goals. She is considered as 'wall' of the team,” Barla said.
The team must consider today’s match as final for them and play accordingly. Today’s event is a crucial one. I expect the team to do another magic like the previous match and enter the finals,” he hoped.
“I must expect a pressure-free performance from Rani Rampal who was seen playing under pressure against Australia, Barla maintained.
The Indian women's hockey team has already made history by reaching the semifinals for the first time in history. Now they can add a golden hue to their fairy-tale run by beating Argentina today.
Having beaten world No. 2 Australia in the quarterfinals on Monday, the Indians will be bullish against Argentina. They have exceeded their expectations, they have nothing to lose and all the experience to gain by playing against one of the top teams. But they can't be complacent as this is an opportunity of a lifetime to reach the finals at the Olympic Games.
Ranked ninth in the world before the start of the Olympics, the Indians have come up the hard way, breaking new grounds to reach the semi-finals by beating Australia 1-0 on Monday. It was a clinical display in which they scored an early goal and then absorbed the pressure created by Hockeyroos throughout.
The Indian defenders and goalkeeper Savita Punia were exceptional against Australia and they will now have to repeat that performance against Argentina. However, the South Americans are a very different team from the Hockeyroos, more physical though less imposing. They are a very fit side and do a lot of running up and down.
They have a very good short corner specialist in Agustina Gorzelany, who has scored three goals so far, while forward Agustina Albertarrio has contributed two field goals.
The Indians have some idea about the Argentine team having played them on a tour in January this year. Though those were exhibition matches and the players and not as serious as an Olympics clash, the Indians had some good moments on that tour.
This Indian team led by Rani Rampal has grown in stature with each match. It started with a 1-5 defeat against world No. 1 Netherlands, a 0-2 loss to Germany, and was outplayed 1-4 by Great Britain. But a 1-0 win against Ireland, with a late goal by Navneet Kaur, kept their hopes alive and then a rollercoaster 4-3 win against South Africa in which they went ahead thrice but allowed the Africans to equalised on all three occasions and eventually made it to the quarterfinals after the Irish lost to Great Britain in their last league match.
Against Argentina, the Indians will have to be more aggressive, create more chances and defend well. Forward Vandana Katariya was a bit subdued against Australia but will have to take charge against Argentina. She is India's top scorer with three goals and India will be looking for more goals from her.