Over the past four years, the Indian women’s hockey teams has been on the rise, their momentum pushing them into the top ten in the world.
From a 13th placing in January 2016, to their current position of 9th and even recently, losing only 2 games out of their last 15, there is no doubt that the Indian women’s hockey team will have high expectations of themselves, to continue to climb and cap off 2019 with a ticket to Tokyo.
Being the first of its kind, the FIH Olympic Qualifiers hold a lot of questions. It brings together a conflict of cultures amongst every nation’s respective domestic competitions.
In the United States, there are no 8-9 month long domestic competitions with a winter break, where these athletes transition to an indoor hockey league. Instead, the top competition in the US is through the universities (NCAA).
Preseason takes place in the beginning of August, with matches starting at the end of the month. Schools are divided into conferences (think geographically) and play about 17 matches between August 31st – November 1st .
Immediately following league play, schools play a conference tournament to determine the champions. These champions then qualify for the NCAA Tournament, where 18 (of the 71+) Division 1 programs compete for a National Title.
The India versus United Stated women’s hockey Olympic Qualifier clash is taking place on November 1st and 2nd 2019, which is really the heart of some of these university program’s competitive calendar.
Most participating nations have taken a break from their domestic competition to allow their top athletes to compete for one of these coveted tickets to Tokyo, but not the NCAA.
In fact the USA women’s hockey team will be without one of their brightest young talents. Mackenzie Allessie, who scored the team 6 goals at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru will stay in the United States and continue playing for The Ohio State University.
But don’t let that be the book-end, this USA women’s hockey team is full of talent. Not to mention they are probably one of the fittest teams in the world.
The American program thrives on their physical condition, which will be key for them to pull out a big result in the back-to-back games at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
India, have qualified for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers by finishing on the top at the FIH Series Finals in Hiroshima, after defeating Japan (3-1) in the final match.
The United States, on the other hand, received their ticket to the FIH Olympic Qualifiers based on their world ranking, after finishing 9th at the 2019 FIH Pro League, earlier in June.
2016 OLYMPIC RECORD
The United States, finished second in the group stages at the Rio Olympics 2016, winning 4 of their 5 matches before losing to Germany in the Quarter-finals, ultimately finishing in the 5th place.
India, on the other hand, finished at the bottom of their group in Rio, concluding their 2016 Olympic campaign with a 12th place finish.
2018 – 2019 CONTINENTAL QUALIFIERS
The Indian women’s hockey team participated at the 2018 Asian Games, where they reached the finals, before losing (2-1) to Japan.
The United States, on the other hand, played at the 2019 Pan American Games, where they were upset by Canada in the semi-finals, before defeating Chile, to claim the Bronze Medal.
LAST 15 GAMES
WORLD RANKING GRAPH
PLAYERS TO WATCH
India | Gurjit Kaur | Defender | 85 Int. Caps
India’s Gurjit has been in great form throughout 2019, as the leading goalscorer in 3 of India’s last 6 competitions, including scoring 11 goals through 5 games at the FIH Women’s Series Finals in Hiroshima.
India | Savita Punia | Goalkeeper | 200 Int.Caps
The ultra experienced Goalkeeper has been the back bone of the Indian defence for almost a decade.
Through the last 15 games, Savita has only allowed an average of 1.26 goals per game.
USA | Kathleen Sharkey | Midfielder | 174 Int. Caps
As one of the only Americans on the roster with Olympic Experience, the team will look towards Sharkey for her leadership.
A foundation in the midfield, it’ll be important for Sharkey to have as much ball possession as possible, to create something going forward.
It’s not all about the attack with the Captain, her defensive organisation will be crucial facing a fast and attacking Indian side.
USA | Erin Matson | Attacker | 60 Int. Caps
Matson has become a staple in the United States attack. Whether that’s in the counter attack or finishing.
If the USA WNT are to be successful in India, they will need a strong showing from Matson.
My heart says USA, my gut says India.
The Indian women have been resilient in the last 4-5 years. From being ranked 13th in the world in 2015, to breaking the top 10 and currently sitting in the 9th place on the world ranking table, India have built a solid and experienced foundation, only losing two of their last 15 games.[to Korea & Great Britain]
The Kalinga Stadium is going to be another defining factor. The 15-thousand seat stadium is one of the most impressive venues for hockey in the world.
There’s no doubt that the stadium will be filled; and I can say from experience, when the fans cheer and chant, you can feel it. Literally.
I think the first game, will end in a draw.
In the second game, the USA team will have the advantage in physical condition, which could prove to be their biggest asset.
But, I think India will put one on the board early and defend their lead. If the series goes to a shootout, I would give the advantage to India.
This will be one close and tough fought series.