With Nations Cup in sight, Schopman eyes improvement

Nov 18, 2022 07:04 PM IST

In an interview, the 45-year-old, who was named FIH Coach of the Year last month, discusses India’s redemption at CWG with a bronze after the poor outing at the World Cup.

Janneke Schopman has been a busy woman despite the Indian women’s hockey team last playing at the Commonwealth Games in August. The chief coach had been reviewing the players’ performances individually, holding meetings, watching and assessing talents at the National Games in Rajkot before returning to Bengaluru to plan and then execute the selection camp.

Janneke Schopman (right) PREMIUM
Janneke Schopman (right)

Now back with her team after a couple of months, the Dutchwoman’s first challenge will be India’s tour of Spain to play some practice games from November 30 to December 8 before the crucial December 11-17 Nations Cup. A new FIH event, the winner of the eight-team competition will be promoted to the Pro League which in turn will hand the champion a World Cup berth next season onward.

In an interview, the 45-year-old, who was named FIH Coach of the Year last month, discusses India’s redemption at CWG with a bronze after the poor outing at the World Cup, the Nations Cup and why former India skipper Rani Rampal was not chosen in the team despite being fit and displaying sensational form at the National Games. Excerpts:

India made quite a comeback at CWG post the disappointment at the World Cup...

It was great to see that the team was able to make some good changes from the World Cup to CWG. I was quite happy with how we played there, not necessarily all the time in outcomes but more in how we executed our tactical plans, creating opportunities. I haven’t seen the girls that much in the last 2-3 months. We had a selection camp on purpose so I have a year to prepare for the Asian Games. Then the majority went to the National Games. So, we only started (training) two weeks back. I am really happy with our intent and performance right now. We have a very strong group of 33 players with very few weak links. That means the quality of training is getting higher and based on CWG we are trying to improve our penalty corners, defence, PC attack, goalscoring and also our transition to defence. Those are the current topics we’re looking at.

India played the Pro League last season. Now, they will play the Nations Cup to qualify for the Pro League. How do you view India’s participation at this new tournament where the girls will face second-rung teams?

It’s going to be interesting. When you play top teams no one really has expectations because it's a bonus if you win. If you lose against the top 4-5 ranked teams people think it's normal. But we have ambitions as a team. We want to be better. It’ll be challenging because we'll have more of the ball most likely against some of the teams. That means we have to be better in ball possession. That's something CWG showed in games against Ghana (India won 5-0) and Wales (India won 3-1) where we need to be better and quicker. That'll be a perfect challenge to see if we've improved in these areas. At the same time, Spain is also there who are ranked higher than us. They're a very good and challenging team. It'll be a good run.

With only one team ranked above us in Valencia, will it be a failure if India don’t make the final?

I'm not looking at it that way. I'm finishing up my individual meetings with the girls, having done quite an extensive review of their individual performances and skills. For me, this tournament is a great way to see how the players perform individually under pressure (especially) after this summer. That's very important because if you get the opportunity to play it's important you're able to deliver and get to that level of training. That is what I’ll be particularly looking at. Can we get the same team commitment and unity that we've shown this past summer? Can we get that out there again? If both align there’s a very good chance we’ll be playing the final and get the top spot. But it all depends on our performance.

Former India captain Rani Rampal is fit and took Haryana to the National Games gold last month. Why isn’t she back on the team?

Every player at the selection trials was fit. As I said I don’t like to comment on individual players. Rani knows why she's not on the team. I was at the National Games. I did look at all the players’ performances. Almost all the 20 selected played at the National Games. I reviewed everyone's performance over this past summer, in the past two months, here in camp, watching the National Games and made a decision where these 20 represent India at best at this point in time.

So is Rani out based on performance?

As I said Rani knows the reasons why she's not playing so I'm not understanding your question. Everyone is in or out of the team based on performance. I make a selection together with the selection committee, with my staff, based on performance.

Where will India play after the Nations Cup?

We're scheduled to go to South Africa in January to play the hosts and Netherlands so that’s very exciting... to play the world No 1. We're still looking to get a team to India in March to play a series which I hope will happen because it's important to play at home as well. And in May is the planned series to Australia.

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    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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