With eyes firmly set on a podium finish, the Indian women's hockey team would look to make a positive start against a lowly Canada in its opening pool match of the Commonwealth Games, on Thursday.
Going by their present form, the Indian eves have a fair chance of progressing to the semifinals of the quadrennial event as apart from Canada, they are placed alongside 2010 Delhi Games silver medallist New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago and South Africa in Pool A.
Apart from New Zealand, who are ranked fourth in the world, South Africa (11th) is the other higher placed team in India's (13th) pool, but the gap between the Indians and the South Africans is minimal.
A winning start against Canada will act as a confidence booster for the Indian eves as they take on New Zealand in their next match on July 27, followed by games against Trinidad and Tobago (July 28) and South Africa (July 30). Against the 22nd ranked Canada tomorrow, the Indians will definitely start as overwhelming favourites as in their last clash in 2012, it was the latter who came out victorious with 4-0 margin. ('Ritusha will be India's Main Weapon at the Games')
Going by past records, the Indian girls enjoy a clear edge over Canada, having won both their duels in the history of CWG Games - in 2002 and 2010. Coming into the Glasgow Games, the Indian eves could not have asked for better preparation as they routed Malaysia 6-0 in an away Test series recently to gain confidence.
With a well-balanced unit at his disposal, Indian women team's chief coach Neil Hawgood is confident that his young team will deliver their best result in the Games. He, however, warned his wards against complacency against a young Canadian outfit who are desperate to prove a point at the world stage.
"While the team is young but the kind of play they showed in the recent Malaysian Tour gives me reasons to be proud of them and confidence that we will deliver our best performance here,"
"I am confident that the girls will give a tough time to Canada tomorrow, but I am still keeping my fingers crossed. Though India has been in the best of forms in the recent past, we cannot forget that Canada with its young team is hungry to prove a point too. It will be their captain and forward Kate Gillis who we consider will be their key player tomorrow, Hawgood said.
"Our aim is to make a winning start in the event and then maintain that momentum further," he added. She has just 15 caps under her belt, but young Ritusha Arya has proved to a vital cog in India's forward line and has complemented both Rani Rampal and Poonam Rani with aplomb. The Indians will also be banking on their goalkeeper Savita to carry on her good showing under the bar.
"The team is confident of a winning start tomorrow. We have to be mentally strong and not allow pressure to take the better of us. Conceding goals will pressurise the team mentally and from my end I will ensure not to allow them to score," Savita said on the eve of their tournament opener.
On the other hand, all onus will be on captain and a veteran of two Commonwealth Games, Kate Gillis to guide the young Canadian team in the marquee event. Besides Gillis, the Canadian team will look upto three other senior players -- Thea Culley, Abigail Raye and Kristine Wishart.