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Olympic Games Tokyo 2020: Chak de India under Rani Rampal's captaincy

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Indian captain Rani Rampal

The Rani Rampal-led Indian women's hockey team opens its campaign at the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020 by taking on hot favourites Netherlands this Saturday. The hockey competitions at the Tokyo Games will take place from July 24 to August 6 with both the men's and women's section featuring 12 teams, split into two pools of six ahead of quarter-finals, semi-finals and medal matches.

India's group - the Women's Pool A - also features reigning Olympic champions Great Britain, European silver medallists Germany as well as Ireland and South Africa as six teams battle it out for a top-four finish in order to secure a place in the cross-over quarterfinals.  
 
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) takes a look at the six teams in the pool:

INDIA

India women, coached by Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, have been making steady progress in the past few years, moving up the FIH World Rankings as well as making the cut for the major events. Rio 2016 was India's first Olympic appearance since 1980, and The Eves are back again for a second successive Games at Tokyo 2020.

They earned their place in dramatic fashion through the 2019 FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers, claiming a thrilling 6-5 aggregate victory over USA in Bhubaneswar. Having won the opening game 5-1, India found themselves 4-0 down to the Americans in Match 2 before team captain Rani Rampal fired home a stunning fourth quarter strike to secure that all important ticket to Tokyo.    

"This team has worked very hard over the last few years and has made progress consistently. There's a good mix of experienced players and new talent, which is excellent. We look forward to taking on the best in the world in Tokyo. This is a team with a lot of potential and drive which we hope to channelise to our best performance yet," says coach Marijne.

One to watch: Rani Rampal. India's captain has a reputation for scoring important goals, a fact proven by netting the decisive strike against USA in the 2019 FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers.  

THE NETHERLANDS

They may not be the reigning Olympic champions, but the Netherlands are without question the team to beat at Tokyo 2020. Head coach Alyson Annan, the legendary former Australia international, double Olympic gold medallist and two-time FIH Player of the Year, has created a team very much in her own image: a perfect balance of outrageous talent, discipline and an unbreakable winning mentality. The team has been almost unstoppable in recent years, claiming the 2018 Women’s World Cup before becoming both FIH Hockey Pro League and European champions in 2019 and 2021. Can anyone stop the dazzling Dutch from reclaiming their Olympic crown?

"It is a tough pool, but the other pool is also tough. All of the opponents are great opponents. Of course, we are going for first place and to do our best in the pool. That is the goal in the first phase of the tournament," says top player Lauren Stam.  

One to watch: Eva de Goede. In team full of superstars, it takes a player of rare quality to shine, but Netherlands captain Eva de Goede does just that. A defensive minded midfielder with a flawless skillset, de Goede’s ball running, tacking and visionary passes are a joy to behold. Named FIH Player of the Year both in 2018 and 2019.

GERMANY

Following their wonderful Olympic bronze medal success at Rio 2016, Germany have continued to look like a team that can challenge the very best in the world. A bronze medal in the inaugural FIH Hockey Pro League and silver medals at the two most recent European Championship events prove that Die Danas – coached by former Belgian international Xavier Reckinger – really are a class act, and they will be looking to get amongst the medals in Japan. Germany faced Italy in the 2019 FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers, comfortably winning both matches to create an emphatic 9-0 aggregate score-line to reach Tokyo 2020.

"We have a really good pool! We know that we have to look at ourselves and make sure that every pool game, we come out a little better. We’ll proceed from game to game, I think," says Charlotte Stapenhorst.

One to watch: Charlotte Stapenhorst. This lively attacker is always an impressive performer, with her magical 3D skills and creativity being a constant scourge to opposition defences.  

GREAT BRITAIN

Having stunned the world by winning Olympic gold at Rio 2016, where they defeated the Netherlands in a thrilling shoot-out thanks to a sensational goalkeeping display from Maddie Hinch, Great Britain will be determined to defend their title at Tokyo 2020. Following Olympic gold medal-winning head coach Danny Kerry’s switch to the England and Great Britain men’s programme in 2018, the responsibility for preparing GB for Tokyo is now in the hands of former Australian international striker Mark Hager, a man who worked wonders in New Zealand with the women’s Black Sticks team.  Hager successfully guided his team to a place at Tokyo 2020 by defeating Chile in the 2019 FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers, claiming 3-0 and 2-1 victories over Las Diablas at the Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre in London.

"I think from our point of view as a squad, we definitely don’t see it as trying to defend the title. We are a completely new group of players with a completely new coaching structure and a completely different way of playing. Our aim for our squad is to go and win a gold medal, and it would be the first time as our squad," says captain Hollie Pearne-Webb.  

One to watch: Lily Owsley. Blisteringly quick with an eye for goal, attacking star Lily Owsley is blessed with all the attributes that keep defenders awake at night. She made her senior international debut in 2013 at the age of 18 and within three years was a European and Olympic champion, with England and Great Britain respectively.

IRELAND

Ireland’s women secured Olympic qualification for the first time in their history in dramatic style, edging Canada 4-3 in a shoot-out in front of 6000 enthralled fans at Dublin’s Energia Park, also known as the Donnybrook Stadium. The Green Army – surprise silver medallists at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018, despite starting the event as the second lowest ranked of the 16 competing teams - trailed 3-1 in the shoot-out before staging a remarkable comeback, eventually winning in sudden-death. Ireland have been both authors and protagonists of an astounding story in recent years. Will they add another fascinating chapter in Tokyo?

“I think our pool is extremely difficult. It is a pool that we can set our sights on doing well in, and I think there are some key games in there that we really need to win. We’ve targeted some key games that we really need to win if we want to progress in the tournament,” says team's key player Anna O’Flanagan.

One to watch: Anna O’Flanagan. Strong, fast and a great finisher, Anna O’Flanagan is a central figure in Ireland’s attacking line-up who was instrumental in the Green Army’s incredible silver medal finish at the 2018 Women’s World Cup. As Ireland’s all-time record goal-scorer, expect her to regularly find the net in Tokyo.

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa have long been the dominant force in African hockey, a fact perfectly highlighted by their staggering record in the Africa Cup of Nations continental championship. Following Zimbabwe’s title success at the inaugural event in 1990, South Africa have won six successive Africa Cup of Nations events, their most recent being in Ismailia, Egypt in 2017. Additionally, they have also won all four of the African Olympic Qualifier competitions played since 2007, with the most recent being the 2019 competition on home soil in Stellenbosch to earn their ticket to Tokyo 2020.

“The year that we have had extra as a result of the postponement, has been a massive positive for us in growth. Our energy has been revived and I truly believe we are in a better position than we would have been a year ago. We went through a rigorous selection process and came across the team that is what we believe is the right combination to make South Africa proud," says coach Robin van Ginkel.

One to watch: Erin Hunter. South Africa’s captain is calm and inspirational defender who will be determined to play an influential role for her team at the world’s greatest sporting spectacle.  

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