"India can be amongst top-3 in the world" - Janneke Schopman takes Asian Games result in her stride, lauds girls for winning Asian Champions Trophy

Hockey - Commonwealth Games: Day 2
Janneke Schopman in a huddle with the Indian girls

The Indian women's hockey team coached by Janneke Schopman have been through a momentous six-week period that began with their Asian Games campaign in Hangzhou.

After topping their group in Hangzhou, the Indians, who needed to go all the way to secure a direct ticket to Paris 2024, went down to eventual champions China in the semifinal before managing to defeat Japan to clinch the bronze medal.

Shrugging off the disappointment of being unable to secure a direct Olympic berth, Janneke Schopman's chargers played inspired hockey to reaffirm their continental supremacy at the recently concluded Asian Champions Trophy in Ranchi.

Over the course of an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda following India's impressive Asian Champions Trophy win, Janneke Schopman asserted that the team has it in them to rise and be consistently perched amongst the top three in world hockey.

"India can be amongst the top three in the world. I strongly believe that we can be there consistently. I know we are currently not. We need time and experience and we need to create a mindset that we can," she stated.
"I do see a similar trajectory with the men, and with the support that we are receiving from Hockey India and SAI, that is the way forward for us to be that way and go that way," said the coach who took over the reins from Sjoerd Marijne.

At Ranchi, the rampaging Indians avenged their Asian Games loss to China by beating Alysson Annan's team by a 2-1 margin before thrashing South Korea by a whopping 5-0 scoreline in the pool stages.

The Indian girls kept up the winning momentum by defeating the Koreans 2-0 in the semifinal. A mammoth and vociferous Jharkhand crowd then witnessed the Savita Punia-led side pummel Japan 4-0 after the captain herself saved a penalty stroke.

The Women in Blue, who played near-flawless hockey in Ranchi, seemed all at sea against the Chinese who dashed Indian hopes with a ruthless 4-0 victory in the Asian Games semifinal in Hangzhou.

"The girls did not expect to play China in the AG semifinal" - Janneke Schopman looks back at Hangzhou

Janneke Schopman alongside Savita Punia
Janneke Schopman alongside Savita Punia

Coach Janneke Schopman dwelt at length on the China game that robbed the Indians of a possible gold medal while also ruining their hopes of making it to Paris without having to go through the Olympic qualifiers.

The Asian Games hosts, coached by the redoubtable Alysson Annan, who was assisted by legendary Australian player and coach Ric Charlesworth, were widely expected to top the group to advance to the final.

One surprising result in Pool B upset the calculations for both India and China, who were looking ahead to taking each other on in the final of the competition.

The Chinese suffered a shock 0-2 defeat to Japan in the pool stages which meant that the Japanese topped the group with second-placed China having to take on Pool A toppers India in the semifinal.

The 46-year-old coach admitted that the Indian girls did not expect to play the Chinese in the semifinal and hence facing the hosts was an unexpected challenge.

"The tournament threw us some challenges. The girls did not expect to play China in the semifinals. We thought we would play them in the final - and then you get busy with things you cannot control because you have to play the semifinal first," Janneke Schopman explained.
"To be fair, we did what he had to do and we finished first in our pool, not being busy with happens in the other pool," she added.

A fair bit of reflection followed for both Janneke Schopman and the players with a decision to improve and focus being the outcome of a "difficult team meeting" ahead of the Asian Champions Trophy.

"The Asian Games did not go how we wanted it to. We had some difficult meetings in which some things needed to be said. The girls said it well and I had to say some things and explain a little bit more about who I am, what I do and why I do things," Janneke Schopman disclosed.
"I think, from that moment on, we just said we want to be better as a team and focus on ourselves. We know what we are good at and that was the plan for the Asian Champions Trophy," the former defender declared.

The girls appeared to be a rejuvenated side in Ranchi as they attacked the opposition with vigour, stuck to the game plan and used the massive home support to their advantage.

Schopman was candid enough to admit, however, that she did not expect her team to win with the huge margins that they finally did at Ranchi.

"I think we did not expect to beat teams with large margins. When we looked at the team entry list everyone came with their Asian Games team. China replaced maybe 4 or 5 players and the other teams replaced 2 or 3," she said.
"The Chinese players who came in to the team for the ACT had some decent experience in the Pro League. They are not a bad team and one knows they are coming off a high point anyways after winning the Asian Games," Schopman asserted.

Janneke Schopman was pleasantly surprised to witness the level of hockey frenzy in Jharkhand both within the stadium and on the streets.

"I was told people were queueing up at the stadium at 10 am. When we driving to the stadium, we saw this huge site set up with giant screens with so many people watching," said Janneke Schopman who was coach of the USA side before taking up the India job.
"At first, I thought they were watching cricket but they were actually watching a hockey game. When we came into the stadium the girls embraced the atmosphere and the crowd embraced them," she said with a smile.

"The girls decided by themselves to do a PC variation" - Janneke Schopman on how India doubled their lead in the final

Neha Goyal (right) flanked by Vandana Katariya
Neha Goyal (right) flanked by Vandana Katariya

Gurjit Kaur, who has been the architect of several of India's biggest wins, was not part of the team picked for the Asian Games or the Asian Champions Trophy.

The likes of Deep Grace Ekka and Deepika came to the fore displaying their prowess with the drag flicks in the absence of India's ace penalty corner expert.

Janneke Schopman explained that while Gurjit Kaur is an asset to the team, having just one lethal drag flicker makes it easier for the opposition to neutralise the sole threat.

The focus, according the former Dutch international, has been on increasing the speed of the short corner injections and efficiency of the traps.

"I think it's a double edged sword - if you have a great drag flicker like Gurjit then it also would be a waste to not use her skill - same with Harmanpreet Singh in the Indian men's team," said Janneke Schopman.
"At the same time, I do think that if a team knows that you only have one threat then they can focus on that threat," she divulged. "The last one year we focussed a lot on our penalty corners as a unit. Not only about who the people are on top of the circle, but how can we increase our inserting speed and trap efficiently."

The Indians scored a brilliant short corner goal in the final against Japan. After a splendid effort from open play by Sangita Kumari gave the Indians the lead midway through the second quarter, the girls earned a flurry of PCs at the beginning of the final quarter.

Deepika, who looked like she was going direct, did a clever feint and slipped the ball to Deep Grace who found Neha Goyal lurking in just the right position to deflect the ball goalwards.

"The girls decided themselves to do a variation that we trained on and never really used in the tournament. We scored off it and I think that is great ownership and displays the growth that they are going through," said the proud coach.

Back in 2018, the Indians had the same team in action at the World Cup and the Asian Games that followed in a couple of weeks' time because there were not enough players available to represent the country at the international level.

Janneke Schopman stressed that depth is not much of an issue anymore with lots of talent rising through the ranks. Speedy Sharmila, who was India's find at the Tokyo Games, was left out of the Asian Games team.

"I have been to the Junior Asia Cup with the junior team. There is a lot of talent there too, and it's just about cultivating that talent and giving them an opportunity. They are challenging the seniors - and at the same time, the senior players are stepping up and adding more responsibilities to their own plate," she remarked.
"You then create this environment where everyone has to be better. You can say it's like a luxury if you can leave someone like Sharmila or Gurjit out of the team," explained Janneke Schopman.

While winning the Asian Champions Trophy does not make up for the semifinal loss in Hangzhou, Schopman was quick to point out any team that wanted to beat India had to be pretty good on the day.

"I never believe in redemption as people say. As a player, I never did. We have lost the Asian Games and winning the Asian Champions Trophy does not really change that," she stated philosophically.
"We are now seen in the world of hockey as a team that are pretty good. People are showing us respect but it also means that they prep a lot better for us now. They need to have a pretty good day to beat us," said Janneke Schopman signing off with an air of confidence that is now all too distinct.

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Edited by Vaishnavi Iyer
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