Skipper Rani Rampal's 48th-minute goal sealed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics berth for the Indian women's hockey team as they defeated USA 6-5 on aggregate after the two-legged FIH Olympic Qualifier in Bhubaneswar last weekend. The men's team too secured a berth after beating Russia 4-2 and 7-1 in the qualifying matches.
Back in her home town Shahbad Markanda, Haryana, Rani expressed that the win is yet to sink in. "I think we are still in that daze. It is yet to sink in that we have actually qualified," admitted Rani further adding that a win in the second match would have made this all the more special.
"Maybe we would have celebrated had we won the second match too. Though a win is a win, we didn't expect things to pan out the way it did for us in the second match," stated Rani about losing the second match 1-4 to USA but qualified due to the aggregate, thanks to their high-scoring 5-1 victory from the first match.
Recalling the moments from the crucial match on Saturday, Rani said, it was the conversation chief coach Sjoerd Marijne had with the team during the 10-minute half-time break that changed their fortunes. The team was trailing 0-4 at half-time and a comeback at this juncture seemed far-fetched. "Sjoerd was naturally quite upset when we went inside the changing room at half-time. His emotions were evident but all he said to us was, 'It's not over yet. All you need to do is go back and play as if the score is 0-0.' I think those words instilled confidence in us again. During the World Cup last year, we were 0-1 behind USA but we scored only in the second half to draw that match," Rani explained.
Although Rani's goal came only in the fourth quarter, the team staged a solid defence to keep USA from scoring further in the third quarter. "We showed resurgence in third quarter and all of us played with that never-say-die attitude but it was not enough. A goal was still eluding us with USA giving us no room in the striking circle. When I saw the screen with time ticking away fast, just 30 seconds remaining for the third quarter to end, I did wonder if we can still make it."
"But when we regrouped before the fourth quarter, everyone was pumped up and we knew we only needed an opening in the circle and one of us would surely score. We had worked so hard for more than an entire year, we had gone through such scenarios in training and we were not going to give up easily," added the Captain.
Rani's goal has ensured the team will play in two back-to-back Olympics after qualifying for Rio 2016 for the first time since 1980. The Indian Team will now get a two-week break before they return for National Coaching Camp in SAI, Bengaluru. "We have crossed the first hurdle which was to qualify. Now we will regroup, review, analyse and there is ample time for us to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and our goal is to win a medal," concluded confident Rani.