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With 3 Olympians In Side, Confident India Eye Best-Ever Finish At Jr.WC

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Potchefstroom, March 31 (PTI): The presence of three Olympians, including skipper Salima Tete, will certainly be an advantage for the Indian hockey team when it competes at the FIH Women’s Junior World Cup, beginning here on Friday.

Apart from Tete, mid-fielder Sharmila Devi and striker Lalremsiami were part of the senior team which finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics.

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The Indian team will begin its campaign in Pool D against Wales on Saturday before taking on formidable Germany on Sunday.

The Indians will then take on Malaysia in the final pool match before the quarterfinal round which starts on April 8.          

The 20-year-old Salima is a vital cog in the Indian midfield. She has already proved her capabilities in the successful Olympics campaign.

Her swiftness is a treat to watch. She mesmerised with her brilliant runs in the bronze medal match against Great Britain, earning three penalty corners, albeit in a losing cause.

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Lalresiami, the first woman Olympian from Mizoram, is a nimble-footed striker, known for quick and poaching movements inside the opposition circle.

The 20-year-old Sharmila, also an energetic forward, has impressed all with her brilliant runs from both the flanks during the Olympics. She also scored a goal in India’s pool stage match against Great Britain.

The coveted quadrennial tournament, which was originally scheduled for December, was postponed due to the Omicron-threat in South Africa.

“There is a lot of excitement among the players. Everyone has worked so hard for this moment and used the postponement to gain better exposure, improve as a team so we can put up our best performance here,” said Tete, who had led the U-18 team to a silver medal at the Youth Olympics in 2018.

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Highlighting the team’s preparations, the Indian skipper said: “Coming here early has helped us tremendously. We have been able to get a good amount of training sessions here which has helped in acclimatising to the weather.”

“It gets very warm and humid during the day. It definitely helped to have our last camp before coming here in Bhubaneswar where we trained in quite hot conditions.”

The squad also boasts of vice-captain Ishika Chaudhary, goalkeeper Bichu Devi Kharibam, defender Akshata Abaso Dekhale and Sangita Kumari, who made their senior India debut recently at the FIH Hockey Pro League matches against Germany.

“Many of us in the team got an opportunity to play with the senior team and we also trained alongside them in Bhubaneswar. I feel this experience will definitely help us in the Junior World Cup,” Chaudhary said.

The Indian team also played two warm-up matches against England and Netherlands with both the games ending in a draw.    

“We played 4×10 minutes warm-up matches against England and Netherlands. It gave us insights into the areas we need to prioritise. We were creating many chances but didn’t convert enough,” Chaudhary said.

India, who have appeared in four editions of the junior global event, claimed their best finish in 2013 with a bronze. The team did not qualify for the last edition of the tournament,

Going by form and current standings, India are expected to qualify for quarterfinal alongside Germany from their pool.

The Netherlands, who are the most successful team at the event with three titles, are placed in Pool A while defending champions Argentina are in Pool C.

It remains to be seen if lack of international exposure, going into the tournament, hurts as they have hardly played any international events in the last two years, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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