Bhubaneswar, March 11: The Indian women's hockey team would look to return to winning ways against a higher-ranked but out-of-touch Germany in the two-legged tie of the FIH Pro League, starting with the first match in Bhubaneswar on Saturday (March 12).
Playing their debut season in the Pro League, the Indian women made a fine start to their campaign, beating China 7-1 and 2-1 in their opening two games in Muscat.
The Indians, ranked ninth in the world, then defeated world number 6 Spain 2-1 at home before slumping to a 3-4 defeat in the return leg last month.
But despite the loss, the Indian women are well placed in the FIH Pro League standings as they are currently at the third position with nine points from four games, which includes three wins and a loss.
And come Saturday, India skipper Savita, who is leading the side in place of an injured Rani Rampal, would be hoping for an improved show from her team at the Kalinga Stadium.
Having registered three consecutive wins, the Indian women were on course to continue their unbeaten run before they conceded a late goal to lose to Spain in their last FIH Pro League match.
Going by momentum, India will have an edge over world number 5 Germany on Saturday. Savita said it's important to enter the match against Germany with a positive mindset.
"Since we have started playing against stronger teams, we have learned the importance of mental strength. It is a skill as important as your skills with a hockey stick. How we adapt to pressure situations can determine the results," she said in a virtual press conference.
"We are happy to be given opportunities to face off against a strong team such as Germany and we hope we can showcase the strengths that we have worked on in the training."
Savita conceded that India made a few mistakes in the second match against Spain which the hosts lost 3-4.
"We have worked on those errors. We know Germany have a very strong defence, so we have planned how we can create attacking opportunities.
"Our strength has always been attacking hockey - so we worked a lot on taking penalty corners and defending penalty corners," Savita said.
Vice-captain Deep Grace Ekka said the Indian players are as fit as any opponent in the world. The Germans will be a bit rusty coming into the tie against India after making a return to the FIH Pro League after October last year.
Germany have played only two games in the competition so far but lost both the contests against Belgium 0-1 and 1-3.
However, Indian women's hockey team chief coach Janneke Schopman very well knows what the Germans are capable of despite returning to the competition after a break.
"Germany is a very consistent team with probably the best basic skills around the world. They defend very well and are quick to attack," Schopman had said.
Germany captain Lisa Nolte said India may have an advantage as they are playing at home.
"The Indian girls are very fast and they have good skills. The weather is so hot and could be an advantage for the Indian girls. But we are optimistic we will handle the pressure and hopefully deliver a good performance," she said.
The hosts have included two new faces - defender Akshata Abaso Dhekale and striker Deepika Jr - in the 22-member squad which will take on Germany over the weekend.
The second match of the tie will be played on Sunday (March 13).
India last played against Germany at the Tokyo Olympics where they suffered a 0-2 defeat in a pool match. Overall, the two teams have faced off against each other five times since 2006, and India have won only once.
The FIH Pro League matches between the Indian men's hockey team and Germany, to be held simultaneously with the women's games, have been postponed following an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the visitors' camp.
Indian Women's Team's matches at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar will start at 5 PM IST on Saturday (March 12) and Sunday (March 13) respectively. Matches will be telecast live on Star Sports Select 2, Star Sports Select 2 HD, and Disney + Hotstar.