An upbeat and confident Indian team will look to start their Rio Olympics 2016 campaign on a positive note, after qualifying for the Games after a huge gap of 36 years. India will take on Japan in the opener match of pool B on 7 August. The women's team had already beaten Japan in a classification match in June last year to qualify for the Games, for the first time after the Moscow 1980 games.
Coached by Australian Neil Hawgood, the women are hopeful of taking the momentum forward. "The coach has told us to give your best in the first match, that will set the tone for the remainder league matches," defender Deep Grace Ekka, who was part of the Asian Games Incheon 2014 bronze medal-winning team, told PTI on the eve of the match
With 106 caps to her name, Deep will form the backbone of India's defence along with captain Sushila Chanu who took over the reigns after veteran Ritu Rani was dropped less than a month before the Olympics for attitude problems. "It will not be a problem. We have been practising together and know each other well. We are just focused to do well tomorrow," she added. Having captained the Indian team in Ritu's absence during their tour of Australia earlier this year, it will be a big test for the Manipur defender Chanu who had led the Indian junior to a bronze medal finish at the Junior World Cup in Germany three years ago.
The forward will be reliant on Rani Rampal who was the top-scorer when they clinched the Olympics berth while goalkeeper Savita Punia will also look to stand tall under the bar. Having coached the Indian women's from July 2012 to November 2014, a phase when they had won the Asiad bronze and a silver in the Asian Championship 2013, Hawgood will look to replicate the success in his second stint.
"The second stint is the same, progress the group to another level is important. Our goal is simple, first to make the last eight and that means winning two games," said Hawgood, who joined back the team in November last year.
India are the lowest ranked side in the pool B that has Argentina, Australia, England and USA. With such formidable rivals, the team has their task cut out. "When we achieve that it is just one game you have to win to have a chance to proceed, that is what we want to do, put ourselves into that position."