New Delhi: As many as four players from Odisha– Deep Grace Ekka, Namita Toppo, Sunita Lakra and Lilima Minz– have been included in the 18-member national women’s squad for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games to be held in Gold Coast, Australia from April 4.
The Indian team is grouped in Pool A along with Malaysia, Wales, England and South Africa. They will begin their campaign on April 5 against Wales.
The 18-member squad will be captained by ace striker Rani while experienced goalkeeper Savita will shoulder the duties of vice-captain.
Savita makes a return to the team after being rested for the recently concluded tour of South Korea.
Rajani Etimarpu is the reserve goalkeeper while the defence is packed with experience and grit in the form of Deepika, Sunita Lakra, Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjit Kaur and Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam.
Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal and Lilima Minz will form the midfield while Rani, Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur and Poonam Rani, who returned to the squad during the South Korea tour, will form India’s attack.
The Indian team is currently ranked No.10 in the world and are expected to face stiff competition from higher ranked teams such as World No.2 England, World No.4 New Zealand and World No.5 Australia.
However, India’s chief coach Harendra Singh is confident that the team can cause huge upsets on the back of winning the five-match series in South Korea.
“We have played with the same set of players for a long period so the players have formed a great understanding between themselves which was evident during our 2017 Asia Cup triumph. The team also performed well in South Korea to beat a higher-ranked side and we will be looking to cause a few upsets and aim for the podium as the morale is high going into the prestigious Commonwealth Games,” he said.
The coach also welcomed the inclusion of the experienced Savita, who is currently in Oman undergoing a goalkeeping coaching course.
“Savita is an integral part of the team and brings a lot of experience in goal for us. She has played over 200 matches for her country and has performed in crucial matches of big tournaments. Therefore, it is good to have her back in the team as she helps the defensive and offensive players as well by imparting her expertise,” the Junior Men’s World Cup-winning coach said.
India won the gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in England after defeating the hosts 3-2 in extra-time in the final.
They took silver at the 2006 Commonwealth Games after losing to hosts Australia in the final.
However, the team has only managed to finish fifth in the 2010 and 2014 editions of the quadrennial tournament.
But skipper Rani is confident that her team can repeat the feat of 2002 and 2006 in Australia.
“We go into the tournament in good form after winning the series in South Korea and while we have only finished fifth in the two previous occasions, this time we will look to finish on the podium as we have a great set of players with a mixture of experience and youth,” the 23-year-old said.
“The team’s hunger to win will certainly be a key factor in us performing well at the Games.”
Goalkeepers: Savita (vice-captain), Rajani Etimarpu.
Defenders: Deepika, Sunita Lakra, Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjit Kaur, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam.
Midfielders: Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal, Lilima Minz.
Forwards: Rani (captain), Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur, Poonam Rani.