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FIH Women's Hockey Olympic Qualifiers 2024, India Preview: Eyeing Paris Berth, Hosts Open Campaign Against United States

India, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, United States, Chile and New Zealand are the eight teams vying for the top three slots in Ranchi to book their Paris Olympics 2024 berths. The hosts are ranked sixth in the FIH world rankings

Indian women's hockey team players during a warm-up session ahead of their Olympic Qualifiers matches, at Birsa Munda Astroturf Hockey Stadium in Ranchi.
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Putting behind the disappointment of finishing third at Asian Games, the Indian women's team will look to cash in on home advantage and secure a ticket to Paris as it faces the USA in its FIH Olympic Qualifiers opener in Ranchi on Saturday. (StreamingMore Hockey News)

Hosts India, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, US, Chile and New Zealand are the eight teams vying for the top three slots in Ranchi to book their Paris berths.

The Paris Olympics 2024 will be held from July 26 to August 11.

World number five Germany are the highest ranked team in the tournament, while India are a rung below in sixth.

New Zealand are ninth in the rankings chart, followed by Japan (11th), Chile (14th), US (15th), Italy (19th) and Czech Republic (25th).

India are placed in Pool B alongside New Zealand, Italy, and the United States, while Germany, former Asian Games champions Japan, Chile and Czech Republic are in Pool A.

After the US game, India will meet New Zealand (January 14) and Italy (January 16). The semi-finals will be played on January 18 and the final is scheduled on January 19.

In modern day hockey, rankings don't hold much significance.

Since 1983, India and the US have played against each other 15 times, out of which the Americans came out victorious on nine occasions and the Indians on just four, with two matches ending in draws.

Going by statistics, it won't be a cakewalk for the Indians and they will have to bring out their 'A' game to outwit the Americans.

"We did not qualify for the Olympics from the Asian Games and we know it was a missed opportunity. But we don't dwell on the past," India's chief coach Janneke Schopman had said at the pre-tournament press conference.

"We are hoping to do well in this tournament. We need to be better (than before) and if we play to our best, we can qualify for the Olympics (from here)."

The build-up to the tournament has been far from rosy for the Indians with veteran striker Vandana Katariya being ruled out of the event just nine days prior to kick-off after fracturing her cheekbone during a training session.

Vandana, who recently became the first woman to earn 300 caps for the Indian team, was a vital cog in the forward line. She has been replaced by young Baljeet Kaur.

The team will surely miss Vandana's services as she has been a key member for a decade and has competed in all major competitions, including the Rio and Tokyo Olympics. She is also the first Indian women hockey player to score a hat-trick at the Summer Games.

Going forward, the Indians would look to improve upon their penalty conversion rate which has been a problem area for long.

Just before this tournament, the dragflickers had a short stint with former India stalwart Rupinderpal Singh, which should hold them in good stead in the coming matches.

The Indian women had wasted plenty of penalty corners in the tournaments since winning the Asian Champions Trophy here, including in the Asian Games.

"Rupinder has the expertise as he is an experienced player. He knows the pressure on the top of 'D'. It was a great help for the likes of Gurjit Kaur and Deepika to fine-tune their skills. I am very happy with that," Schopman said.

In Vandana's absence, the onus will be on the likes of Lalresiami, Sangita Kumari, Deepika and Baljeet to deliver the goods in the forwardline, while the defence will be managed by Nikki Pradhan, Udita, Ishika Chaudhary, and Monika.

Nisha, Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke, Neha, Navneet Kaur, Salima Tete, Sonika, Jyoti, and Beauty Dungdung will feature in the midfield.

Meanwhile, in other matches of the day, Germany will face Chile, Japan will take on Czech Republic, and New Zealand will square off against Italy.

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