India women hockey team is gearing up for the tough challenge ahead that awaits them in USA at the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers in Odisha staring from November 1.  The team that accumulates most points from the two matches will book their berth for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 and midfielder Sushila Chanu is confident saying India has made huge strides since the Rio Games in 2016.

“We know how it felt representing the country at the Olympics when we qualified for it after a 36-year gap last time in Rio,” Sushila said. “However, when we came back from that outing, there was a unanimous feeling around the group that we need to push ourselves and make sure that we are consistently putting in the performances which will help us in qualifying for the next edition. We have made huge strides from the previous Olympics, and now we are all very determined to secure our place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”

Each team will be awarded three points for a win while while in the event of a draw, they will be given a point each. In case of both teams finishing the event on equal points, the one with the higher ranking will qualify.

India are ranked 9th while USA 13.

Looking forward to the upcoming challenge of playing USA at home, Sushila said their opponents will pose a threat but India is ready. “We have the best opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics as we are playing at home against USA. We will have the support of the home crowd, and even though USA are a strong unit, we have full belief in ourselves and in the way we play. We have made huge strides in our game from 2016, and now is the time to show it to the world that the Indian Women’s Hockey team is here to challenge for the top honours, regardless of the opposition we face. That is the kind of confidence that is instilled in the team and we are determined to produce the results in the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers Odisha,” Sushila said.

Having missed two major tournaments last year due to a long-term injury, the Sushila returned to the side at the start of this year, but says the journey back to the team has been a tough one. “It was unfortunate that I suffered a long-term injury in 2018, and had to miss major tournaments like the FIH Women’s Hockey World Cup London 2018, the Asian Games 2018 and the AHF Women’s Champions Trophy. It was a very difficult period for me personally as I was low on confidence, and when you are injured, most of the time you are supposed to train alone with your trainer. There were times when I would doubt myself and think about the what-ifs, but the support I received from my family, support staff and my teammates was immense, it helped me in making a comeback,” said Sushila.

The 26-year-old, who has 179 international Caps to her name, has been a mainstay since making her senior debut in 2009 and also led the team in Rio. “I was honoured to have been named the Captain of the team in 2016, and it was a surreal experience personally. I had always dreamed about playing for India at the Olympic Games, and when we first stepped onto the field in our first match against Japan, I had goosebumps. I had just recovered from an ACL injury, and to be Captaining the side at the biggest tournament was a proud and emotional moment for me. We have 10 players in this current side who were there in Rio as well, and all of us collectively want to experience that feeling again, and not just that, we want to win a medal for the country this time in Tokyo,” said the Manipur-born midfielder.