India open campaign against Malaysia in 4-nation women's hockey

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New Delhi, Nov 30 (UNI) India take on Malaysia in their first match of the inaugural Lal Bahadur Shastri Four-nation Women's Hockey tournament here tomorrow.

The other two teams, Azerbaijan and Italy, will play in the first match at Shivaji Stadium in the five-day tournament hosted by Lal Bahadur Shastri Society as a preparation of the Indian team for the Olympic qualifiers in March-April next year.

India captain Mamta Kharab exuded confidence that her team would win the tournament which would also serve as a good buildup to the Olympic qualifiers.

India has not hosted a women's international tournament for a long time and Mamta said her team was really looking forward to the tournament.

''It is good that this tournament has come up before the Olympic qualifiers. Moreover, we have not played any international matches before home crowd for long. I hope people come to watch our matches,'' she said.

''We expect to win the tournament,'' she added.

She said her side has a blend of youth and experience though senior players Asunta Lakra and Surinder Kaur and Jasjeet Kaur were not in the team because of injury.

India are the highest ranked team at 13th, Azerbaijan are at 15th while Italy and Malaysia are ranked 24th in the FIH latest chart.

Mamta said Malaysia are an improved side but said Azerbaijan could be the most likely opponent they would meet in the final on December 5.

''Last time when we played against Italy we won 5-0. Malaysia are an improved side, but Azerbaijan could be the toughset.'' Indian Hockey Confederation General Secretary Amrit Bose said the tournament was mainly conceived to popularise women's hockey in the country though it will also serve as preparation for the Olympic qualifiers.

''Our endeavour was that we should have some tournament before the Olympic qualifiers. I thank the three countries who had accepted our invitation,'' Indian Women Hockey Federation President Amrit Bose said.

The qualifier will be held at Kazan in Russia from April 19-27 next year and India's opponents would be USA, Netherlands Antilles, Belgium, Chinese Taipei and host Russia.

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