Sports

Rani Rampal's Inspiring Words Behind Neelam Panghal's Success In Women's Junior Asia Cup

The 19-year-old 'go-getter' from Hisar district in Haryana struck in the 41st minute as India defeated four-time champions Korea 2-1 in Kakamigahara, Japan on Sunday.

Neelam considers her family and coach her biggest support system.
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'Believe in yourself' -- these words from former India captain Rani Rampal seem to have had a transformational effect on young drag-flicker Neelam Panghal, who emerged the star of the side, scoring the winning goal for India in the Junior Asia Cup final against Korea in Japan on Sunday. (More Hockey News)

The 19-year-old 'go-getter' from Hisar district in Haryana struck in the 41st minute as India defeated four-time champions Korea 2-1 in Kakamigahara, Japan on Sunday.

"Whenever she (Rani) conducted a session, she told us to 'believe in yourself', and that is what inspired me," said Neelam on Tuesday.

"I took a few penalty corner sessions from Rani di in Bengaluru, especially about her hitting skills. When I was young and started taking penalty corners, I used to drag (the stick) but I started taking hits watching Rani di. I have learnt a lot from her."

Neelam became determined after seeing her sisters fail to make it to the national level and the resolve only grew with time.

"I took up hockey watching my sisters play the sport. I used to accompany them to the ground and, with time, developed a liking for the game. I then joined the Sports Authority of India hostel in Hisar in 2014 and honed my skills under Azad Singh Malik sir.

"I played my first sub-junior tournament in 2016 and since then I've never looked back," Neelam, who scored five goals from penalty corners during in the Junior Asia Cup, told PTI in an interview.

The final was keenly poised at half time before Neelam scored the decisive goal from a penalty corner to hand India a thrilling win.

"It was a great feeling, there was great excitement and the team wanted a goal. When we got the penalty corner, my team-mates wanted me to score the winning goal, and I said 'Ok I will score'. And, I did it.

"At that moment, I though my goal was a collective effort... I felt the team had scored the goal, not me, such was the excitement."

On whether she idolised any sportsperson, Neelam said, "I am interested in learning a little bit from every player. Every player has his/her own skills and I want to learn from everyone."

Neelam considers her family and coach her biggest support system.

"My family has been my biggest support. They never stopped me from playing. Whenever I was disappointed and wanted to give up hockey, they motivated me... especially my brother and sister," she said.

The Junior Asia Cup title has brought several youngsters into limelight and some could make the Asian Games squad. However, Neelam wants to just concentrate on her game and leave the rest to the coaches and selectors.

"Our focus is now on the (Junior) World Cup and returning home with a medal. I leave it (Asian Games selection) to the coaches and selection committee. They have seen me play, so whatever decision they take I would accept," she said.

Neelam also credited chief coach Janneke Schopman for the transformation of Indian women's hockey.

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"From the opening match to the last game, we were getting lessons from Janneke. Learning is a process which never stops. Hockey is a team game and I would credit the victory to the team. It was a team effort," she concluded.

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