Indian women's hockey team mainstay Savita Punia hopes the new year will do a world of good for the Indian hockey team. A packed season, including a shorter Olympic cycle, beckons the Indian team as they start the new year defending their Asia Cup title.
The Indian women's hockey team's next assignment is the Women's Asia Cup in Muscat. The tournament will see the top eight teams on the continent - India, China, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore - vie for top honors.
The Asia Cup will be played in a two-pool format with cross-over classification matches and will be a qualifying tournament for the FIH Women's World Cup 2022. The top-four teams in the Asia Cup will qualify for the World Cup.
Savita Punia hopes India will be able to defend their Asia Cup title.
"In 2017, we won the Asia Cup to win direct qualification for the Women's World Cup in London. I feel that win was one of the stepping stones for us to establish steady growth in our performance in the past four years," she expressed.
"Definitely starting the season with a good show in Asia Cup will give us the right momentum as we play back-to-back tournaments."
Savita Punia hopes India will do well in the Pro League
After the Asia Cup, the Indian women's team side will compete in the FIH Hockey Pro League. Savita Punia said the team is looking forward to playing some of the best teams in the world. India will play their FIH Hockey Pro League matches at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar. She said:
"I think a lot of us are looking forward to the FIH Hockey Pro League matches. This will be our first outing in this the league and we are looking forward playing some of the best teams in the world."
"Needless to say, we are eager to play in Odisha again and to have the Netherlands, who are the World No. 1, travel to India for these matches is something we had never imagined," an excited Savita Punia added.
India will take on the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and England in Bhubaneswar. Following those matches, they will travel to Belgium and the Netherlands to play against Belgium, Argentina and the USA in the month of June.
"I feel the Pro League matches will provide us with the best exposure ahead of the World Cup (in July). Last time, we made it to the quarter-finals for the first time in many decades," opined Savita Punia.
"With our recent performance in the Olympics, and the support we garnered, we need to live up to expectations by doing well in these major competitions to keep the interest alive in women's hockey."
The packed 2022 year also included the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. A gold medal in the Asian Games will help India qualify for the Paris Olympics directly.
The Indian team will wrap up the season with the FIH Women's Nations Cup in December, which will be played in Valencia, Spain. Savita Punia said:
"It will be a very hectic season and we have begun our preparations for it in all earnestness. We also have a very young and promising batch of players who have come into the camp of 60 players and it will be interesting to see who will eventually make it to the final core group of 33."
"Having a good core group in such a hectic year will mean a lot in terms of ensuring our performance doesn't drop whenever someone needs to fill in for another player," concluded Savita Punia.