Athletics
Neha Goyal opens up about former skipper Rani Rampal, says team misses her

Neha Goyal opens up about former skipper Rani Rampal, says team misses her

At the upcoming Women's Asian Champions Trophy, Neha Goyal and Team India will face tough challenge from China.

When you’re the best in Asia, when you’re tipped to win a tournament, when you’re expected to run over every opponent you face…there might be a lot of things that might not go in your favour. Something similar happened to the Indian women’s hockey team when they crashed out of the Asian Games semis, with a 0-4 loss to host China. They did manage to take home the bronze medal, but the gold medal was lost, and so was the direct Paris 2024 Olympics qualification.

Being the best-ranked team in Asia did not matter to the Chinese girls, who were ranked no. 12 then, nor will it matter now, when they face India in a few day’s time at the Women’s Asian Champions Trophy in Ranchi. One of the most talented mid-fielders in the side, Neha Goyal is all but ready to give it back to the Chinese.

Neha, who has been a part of the Indian setup for close to a decade now, and was around when India made it to the semis of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, has been working in areas where the team fell short at the Asian Games. It comes as no surprise for the team which has shown tremendous hunger to improve all the time and win over top oppositions.

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Penalty Corners Hurting India

“We settled for a bronze medal at the Asian Games, but that was largely because we had some issues with our PC conversion and the opposition using a lot of high balls on us. But we’ve tried to overcome that at the recent camp. We were hoping for a gold medal at the Asiad, but now the focus has shifted to a gold at the Women’s Asian Champions Trophy. We also paid attention to how we needed to stop other teams, and counter-attack. This is what the coach Janneke Schopman also laid an emphasis on,” Neha Goyal said in an exclusive interaction with Insidesport.

Overall, a far improved side from what it was 4-5 years ago, there are some visible areas that need improvement, namely scoring goals, and penalty corner conversions. The team relies heavily on PC specialists Gurjit Kaur and Deep Grace Ekka, who might or might not fire on a given day. The field goals have taken a hit too. But Neha is aware of the shortcomings, which is the first step in getting better in the area.

“Yes, we have worked in one area for sure. We have a good PC team, but we still need to work on it, and can’t be reliant on one person. Even on the defence side of it, we did a few drills for the first rusher since China has a good PC attack. So this is obviously one area in modern hockey that you need to constantly keep working on. The same is true with us.

“I think this (field goals) has been discussed a few times within the team every time we are in the opposition D, we are in some sort of a hurry. The entire team agrees on one thing – we can take a little more time in the D. Goals will come for sure.”

Extended Olympic Qualifier for Indian Women’s Hockey Team

The Olympic qualifiers will be held in Ranchi, India, right after the Women’s Asian Champions Trophy gets over, so it becomes one big, large tournament for the team, where they need to consistently deliver. This is one of those things that might work in Team India’s favour. “We are treating this ACT as the Olympic qualifier only as it would hold us in good stead. We will be playing in the same venue, in front of the same crowd. So everything will remain the same. It is just a few additional matches for us in the Olympic qualifier.

“At the Asian Games, in the semis, we did not play attacking hockey and were in a shell. We need to make sure we don’t do that, and that we are at our best when we attack. So that is what we’ll look to do.”

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The Unnecessary ‘Chak De India’ Reference

In many ways, the Bollywood flick Chak De India was an eye-opener for many. There was in-fighting between the team members for their spots and did not want to change as per the team’s requirements. But this current Indian women’s hockey team is nothing like that. Each and every player is ready to give up their original positions, for the cause of the team. And that is how it should be. Neha described, how it’s common these days to switch positions in the team, and one needs to be an all-rounder.

“Now we’ve come to a stage where we are required to play in just about any position. Like, we don’t have Sushila Chanu at the moment with us, so Salima Tete, who plays on the right wing, has been brought to the center. The coach felt we needed Salima in the center, and hence a quick change has been made, with no fuss. You must have seen, that even our full-back reaches the D with the ball. In short, every player should have a hang of playing in every position. According to the situation, I also become a forward, or a full-back, as and when needed. That is something we consciously put into practice.”

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Rani Rampal Effect

Former India captain Rani Rampal has been out of the team for close to two years now, and there isn’t any clear explanation for it. She was a powerhouse when it came to scoring and stood like a rock in the midfield when needed. Even Neha had no answer about Rani but did mention that she missed her.

“We do miss Rani Rampal for sure, but we need to be content with what we have at the moment. If the coach has taken a certain decision, we accept that. Each and every player is good enough in this team,” Neha concluded.

*Watch all the action from the Jharkhand Women’s Asian Champions Trophy Ranchi LIVE on the Sony Sports Network and Sony LIV from October 27, 2023, 4:00 PM IST onwards.

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