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Symphony of Silence: End of Olympic Dream for Indian Women's Hockey Team

Indian women's hockey team lost 0-1 to Japan in their last bid to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics in Ranchi on Friday.

Symphony of Silence: End of Olympic Dream for Indian Womens Hockey Team

Pritish Raj

Updated: 20 Jan 2024 6:02 AM GMT

Ranchi: As goalkeeper and captain Savita Punia trudged back after the final hooter, the packed Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Stadium in Ranchi watched in silence the anticlimax of the Indian women's hockey team's hope of qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics on Friday. It was the shattering of dreams that sounded like - deafening silence.

Japan ended the Olympic dreams of the Indian women's hockey team by beating the hosts 1-0 in the third-place playoff of the Olympic Qualifiers.

From a fourth-place finish in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 to not qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the Indian team's journey has been pleasing.

Coached by former Indian goalkeeper Jude Menezes, Japan dished out a defensive masterclass to stun the Indian team in front of their home crowd executing their coach's plan to perfection.

"That was the plan. I know that India was under pressure and we wanted to start quickly. We started pressing higher and hoped for a mistake," Jude said after the match.

Jude's plan worked as Japan's high press threw India off the balance and the Women in Blue conceded the all-important goal in the first quarter.

"They did not play their free-flowing style and it was one of our tactics. We had to stop India’s runs. If they do that, they’ll kill you," Jude added.

India conceded in the first ten minutes of the first quarter and after that they were chasing the game.

India's tactical blunders and poor composure

Janneke Schopman's biggest mistake in the match was to start Salima Tete in the middle of the turf instead of allowing her to operate in her favoured position on the right flank.

Salima struggled, and so did India, as she failed to utilise her biggest asset to bring out the maximum output—her speed.

When Salima was shifted to the right side in the second half, India looked like a team transformed with Salima's pace forcing Japan to push back further. Japan's circle was crowded with the Indian players as Japan put everything on the line to defend their goal.

When Salima switched the role, India's attack increased continuously but the composure in the final third was lacking completely.

Keeping penalty corner failures aside, India had their chances to score a field goal with Lalremsiami, Udita, Navneet Kaur, Sangita, and Salima Tete all coming close to scoring one.

But their efforts were either saved by the superlative goalkeeping of the Japanese custodian or poor decision-making cost them the opportunity.

The Penalty Corner horror

Since the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, India has been poor in converting the penalty corners be it with Gurjit Kaur or without Gurjit Kaur.

In the dismal 2022 World Cup campaign, India had won 28 penalty corners before getting knocked out. Only three of them were converted with Vandana Katariya converting two and Gurjit one.

At the 2022 Commonwealth Games, India converted only six out of the 37 penalty corners they earned. India's conversion was poor and they only converted one out of 11 penalty corners against Ghana.

India went with youngster Deepika as designated drag flicker in the absence of Gurjit Kaur and Deep Grace Ekka to the FIH Olympic Qualifiers but the strategy fell flat as India's penalty corner battery failed to execute the basics like trapping the ball on the top of the circle.

In the match against Japan, India won seven penalty corners in the second half and failed to convert any of them. Janneke's move of persisting with Deepika instead of Udita, who was on a scoring spree, didn't work out.

Indian womens team trudge off slowly after losing to Japan in the third-place match of the Womens Hockey Olympic qualifiers. (PritishRaj/TheBridge)

What next for the team?

At the moment, there is dead silence on what should be the team's next move.

The vital questions are: Has 33-year-old Savita Punia missed her last chance to qualify and play at the Olympics and has Janneke Schopman overseen her last game as the coach of the team?

The answer to these questions is understandably, "I don't know."

India will feature in the FIH Pro League a week from now in Bhubaneshwar but at the moment the silence of the crowd in the stadium, the silence of players, the silence of the coach, and more importantly, the silence of Hockey India is going to feel very heavy on everyone's shoulders.

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