“Cometh the hour, cometh the hero”
After posting a comfortable 5-1 win on Friday in the first leg, the Indian women’s hockey team survived a major horror show from the visitors as they succumbed to a 1-4 defeat by USA in the second leg of the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers on Saturday, However, it was captain Rani Rampal’s decisive goal in the fourth quarter that ensured the Indian Eves a berth at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by the rule of goal aggregate, which went in India’s favour by 6-5.
This for the first time the Indian women’s team will be participating at the Olympics for two consecutive times. In 2016, the women’s team had qualified for the Olympics after a long gap of 36 years.
The visitors put on early pressure to the Indian side as they won three penalty corners within five minutes of the game, and American no. 12 Amanda Magadan opened a scoreline with a brilliant drag-flick knock from their third PC in the fifth minute. The Indian defence was kept engaged throughout the opening quarter as USA girls waged flurry of attacks. The Indian team further went on to backfoot as the USA skipper Kathleen Sharkey fired a shot from inside the circle to extend the lead to 2-0 right before the end of the first quarter.
Trouble further piled up for the Indian women’s team in white as Alyssa Parker took advantage of the shaky Indian defence to post their third goal in the second quarter and took the total goal difference to 5-4. Nothing seemed working for the Indian side as India spoiled two penalty corner opportunities that came their way in the 22nd minute. The Indian girls kept falling apart as Magadan scored in the 28th minute to seal the goal aggregate to 5-5 even before the half-time. The shadow of disappointment kept crawling on the Indian side as proceedings reached the half-time mark.
The third quarter saw India dominating the possession. However, even after winning three PCs Gurjit failed to convert for India.
India’s breather came in the fourth quarter as Captain Rani Rampal found a long ball into the circle and Rani sent it into the American with heroic vigour. Suddenly the Odisha crowd erupted in joy as India though lost 1-4, went through to the Olympics with an aggregate of 6-5 goals.
On Friday, the India women’s hockey team put one foot in the Tokyo Olympics next year by registering a 5-1 victory over the United States in a qualifier first leg clash at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. India scored four goals in 11 minutes after halftime to kill the tie as Gurjeet Kaur scored a brace.
Erin Matson scored a consolation goal for the USA in the 54th minute from a penalty stroke and the 13th-ranked away side got a host of chances to reduce the deficit in the dying minutes but it was not enough. In the end the hosts took a huge step towards the Tokyo Olympics.