Bhubaneswar: Amid nerve wrecking tension, the Indian women’s hockey team managed to book a berth for the 2020 Olympics after surviving an stunning fightback from the USA in the second leg of their Olympic qualifier at the Kalinga stadium here on Saturday.
India’s women came into their second leg match against USA with what looked like an unassailable 5-1 lead, but a brilliant first half performance saw the Americans score four times without reply to level the aggregate score at 5-5 against the hosts. However, a captain’s goal from Rani Rampal in the fourth quarter was enough for India to sneak a 6-5 win on aggregate, taking a ticket to Tokyo in dramatic circumstances over their brave opponents.
In a total reversal of yesterday’s show the USA staged a great fight back from a 5-1 deficit from the first leg to level the score 5-5 in the first half. However the hosts managed to rally themselves in the second half . India’s four-goal advantage was wiped away in the first half of the match as a relentless USA came out all guns blazing.
They got the first goal through a penalty corner. Amanda Magadan managed to get a deflection in the air off captain Kathleen Sharkey’s drag flick and sent the ball homeSharkey further reduced the deficit in the 14th minute after a brilliant passing move from the USA. The hooter blew a minute later with the USA leading the match 2-0 and trailing 5-3 on aggregate.
Five minutes in the second quarter , Alyssa Parker deflected a shot from Danielle Grega to make it 3-0 Just two minutes before the half time hooter went off, Magadan scored her second of the game to complete the USA’s comeback. The third quarter ended with the score 5-5 on aggregate.
The final quarter started and the e USA got a yellow card and were down to 10 players for five minutes. India took advantage with Rani firing it into the roof of the net from the edge of the circle after a scramble in the box in the very next minute.
The hosts held on and ensured a place in the Olympics for the second time on the trot.
After the match Indian coach S.Marijne said “We have a dream and the dream is to go to the Olympics, and the most beautiful colour is gold. Preparation starts tomorrow morning. We all can see, we played well in one half. But now we have to do it for the entire match. I am proud of the fighting spirit of the girls. He was candid enough to admit that he was very nervous “The first half, I was like what is going on here, and we really reacted. I was watching with the conditioning coach, like what is going on. There were so many things that were going wrong. At half-time I told the girls, it’s 0-0. It’s your moment, go with your head up. I think US played two very good matches. Also today, compliments to USA how they did. They played their best hockey what I saw now.
Captain Rani opined “for a lot of players, especially youngesters it was the first opportunity. Throughout the game, never thought it would end our careers, because we have worked a lot for these matches. I knew we can do anything till the last minute. I know we should have done it from the first quarter. It’s same like USA. We converted our chances yesterday, they converted today. Trailing 0-4, you need to work harder. I think the girls put in a lot of energy till the last moment. When you play for so long, you wait for these moments, work towards it. Last time also we qualified after 36 years, simiilarly reaching the World cup quarterfinals. Today also after conceding we did not give up.