Olympic Qualifiers: "More you focus on the USA, the stronger you make them", says Sjoerd Marijne
Sjoerd Marijne is no stranger to the Kalinga Stadium.
When Cyclone Ochki descended on Odisha in December 2017, the Dutchman watched his boys battle hard on a slippery pitch against Olympic champions Argentina before going down by a lone goal in the first semifinal of the Hockey World League Finals.
The hockey-loving crowds braved the inclement weather to cheer their side on, and were rewarded when the Indians won bronze against Germany a couple of days later. Marijne is back in Bhubaneswar - this time with the Indian girls who are just a couple of matches away from booking their place in Tokyo 2020.
"We feel it is a bonus to be at the Kalinga Stadium"
The coach of the Indian women's side remembers the venue well but stresses that the renovated structure is a lot more impressive than what it was a couple of years ago.
"I was here at the Kalinga Stadium with the men's side for the Hockey World League Finals. Of course, it was not completely built then like it is now. More stands were erected during the World Cup and so we feel it is a bonus to be here. It is an impressive stadium."
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda ahead of the two big matches that will decide the fate of his team's Olympic quest, Marijne is emphatic that the girls achieved their objectives during the recent tour to Great Britain with mission USA in mind - but hastened to add that the recent results of the opposition team made no difference to his plans.
The Indian girls toured England recently with the five-match series ending with three draws and one win apiece for both teams. Marijne admitted that the emphasis was not so much on the results but on preparing the side to take on the USA who can be very physical in their approach.
"The USA is a very physical team"
"I think we did very well in England - we got better with every match. We dominated a few of the matches and I think that is a big step forward."
"We know how we want to play against the USA and the matches against GB gave us a lot of confidence - we tried a few new things and changed a few things as well. I feel there were a lot of positives."
"I think the USA is a very physical team - that is one of their strengths but we have improved a lot in that regard now."
"During the GB tour, we focussed a lot on how to deal with physical play - but as I always say, the primary focus is on ourselves - focussing on ourselves is what works for us."
When the Indians played the USA at the London World Cup last year, they were in effect playing a higher-ranked team but the American girls have slipped down the FIH ranking ladder and are currently placed in the thirteenth slot - four places below India.
Although the USA finished last in the Pro League this year after managing to win just one out of their sixteen matches, Marijne refuses to write off the side who drew with India in London 2018 - and explains that it is not part of his philosophy to analyze the opposition based on match results against other teams.
"All the four teams we could have played against as per the draw - Belgium, Korea, Canada, and the USA - are pretty strong. So, I don't think we can complain about the draw or call it a good draw or a bad one."
"I watched the Pro League matches on television, and on FIH Live. All the teams taking part in the Pro League are extremely strong - and if one is unaware of the process that the team is going through judging purely through results in not wise."
"In women's hockey, the Netherlands is the best team in the world - it was evident during the World Cup, and most of the other top teams can beat each other."
"It's true the USA finished last in the Pro League but they also played out some matches which ended in a draw - so we must not underestimate them. That is why I do not pay much interest to their results against other teams as that can confuse us."
"The more you focus on the USA, the stronger you make them," said the coach who is hoping to be able to field a full-strength squad but revealed that ace defender Sunita Lakra will be out of action for a few months.
"Sunita Lakra injured - no other fitness concerns"
"There are no fitness concerns currently - apart from Sunita who is injured and is therefore out for a few months."
It has been quite a while since the girls played an international match in India and the home advantage will make a difference says Marijne.
"The girls have had to travel out of the country for every single tournament and tour and it will be a welcome change for them to play in an environment they are familiar with and eat their kind of food. We are also able to train a lot in our own stadium and both factors will have benefits for us."
"It is natural to be nervous when one performs at the highest level"
Two big matches across two momentous days will decide whether or not the Indian women's hockey team makes it to the Olympic Games - are the girls nervous?
Marijne is quick to point out that the Indian girls displayed nerves of steel when they very nearly outdid the hosts in front of over 10,000 home fans at the London World Cup and have been learning to deal with the pressures of performing at the highest level.
"Right now, the girls are more excited than nervous - but in these kinds of matches, it is quite natural to be nervous."
"The greatest sportsmen and sportswomen are also nervous and that is something you always experience at the highest level - the question is how do you deal with that?"
"That is something we work on a lot - with regard to how to deal with pressure and what to focus on."
"The girls played their first World Cup match against England last year with a crowd of over 10,000 and they did not feel any pressure there - so the team is used to playing in front of large crowds."
Indeed, the Odisha crowd is expected to erupt just as it did during the Men's World Cup to cheer the Indian eves who will playing at the Kalinga Stadium for the first time.
The matches are scheduled to be played on November 1 and 2.Modified 21 Dec 2019, 00:47 IST