Azerbaijan `Test` to identify best players for Oly QF: Coach

New Delhi: Indian women`s hockey coach C R Kumar on Saturday said that the four `Test` matches against Azerbaijan, starting from Sunday, would give the national selectors a chance to identify the best players for the Olympic qualifiers to be held next month.

"The four Tests would help the selectors watch all the 32 to 42 probables here and then select the best among them for the upcoming Olympic qualifiers," said Kumar on the eve of the first Test.

"We would also be able to judge how they can perform and how much they can sustain their intensity. All parameters would be kept in mind," he added.

India will compete against Ukraine, Poland, Canada, Italy and South Africa in the Olympic qualifiers to be held here from February 18-26.

The coach said although the team did well in Test series in Australia and then in four-nation tournament in Argentina (involving Ireland, Argentina and South Africa), goal scoring was an area where the Indian women need to give maximum emphasis.

"We missed a lot of scoring opportunities, so that will be the maximum priority," Kumar said.

The women`s team have been attending a preparatory camp for the qualifiers at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here.

Asked why India chose to play Azerbaijan, who are ranked lower than them, and not a higher ranked side before the Olympic qualifiers, Kumar explained, "The good thing about Azerbaijan is that it has a lot of Korean players and they are ranked 15th in the world. So, that means they will display a fast game.”

"So, they cannot be taken lightly and it will be helpful in for our preparations for the qualifiers."

Captain Ashunta Lakra also said that Azerbaijan play tough hockey and that would give her team a good chance to analyse their game.

"Azerbaijan team is good. Though we are better skill-wise, they play tough hockey. So we cannot effort to miss our chances against them as it could mean trouble," said Lakra.

Stating that the team showed a lot of improvement in both Australia and Argentina, Lakra said, "We did well in both the tournaments and more importantly without a lot of senior players.

Even the matches that we had lost, the goal difference weren`t much."

Lakra, like her coach, admitted that the team would have to improve on their goal scoring.

"Our focus would be on goal-scoring," she insisted.

After Sunday’s first game, the second match will be played on January 16, third on January 18 and the final Test on January 19.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan women`s hockey team manager Rashad Alizada said that playing against India in the four Tests will be a good way of preparing for their Olympic qualifiers to be held in Japan in April.

"India are a good side. They are higher ranked than us. So this will a good preparation for the qualifiers," said Alizada.

Azerbaijan defender Khatira Aliyeva agreed with her team manager said that playing against India would be a good preparation.

"We hope to do well in Olympic qualifiers and playing against India would be very good preparation," she said.