Hockey

Indian women and men hockey teams qualify for Tokyo Olympics

Indian men’s hockey team players celebrate their victory over Russia in the FIH men’s Olympics qualifiers match in Bhubaneswar on November 1, 2019.

Indian men’s hockey team players celebrate their victory over Russia in the FIH men’s Olympics qualifiers match in Bhubaneswar on November 1, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

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Indian women's hockey team prevails over USA with a 6-5 aggregate; men’s team maul Russia 7-1

On Friday, the Indian women were living a dream with a comfortable four-goal advantage against USA and one foot through the door to Tokyo. On Saturday, it almost turned into a nightmare before Rani Rampal took a knee, half-turned and slotted the ball into the roof of the net in the 48th minute of the game.

That moment did not help India win the game — USA did it 4-1 — but ensured the host snatched the Olympic ticket with a 6-5 aggregate, surviving the longest 12 minutes for the team in recent history. It also took the team to its second successive Olympics and third ever even as USA was left devastated, falling short despite a tremendous fightback when no one gave them a chance.

USA coach Janneke Schopman had said after the 5-1 drubbing in the first game that things were still “doable” for her team, even if no one gave them a chance to overturn the deficit. They did a lot more than that.

Aggressive from the start, USA dished out a ruthless display of perfect planning and made sure the half chances counted, the Indians left panting in the wake of its speed and precision. Every Indian pass was intercepted, every aerial ball brought down within its own half. USA cut through the Indian defence with ease, finding space at will to play ball.

There were a grand total of two shots on target in the first half — both penalty corners, both wasted. India struggled to hold the ball, USA winning turnovers with barely an effort. Captain Kathleen Sharkey was all over, scoring once and terrorising the Indian defence, as threadbare as it was, further. India struggled to enter the opposition circle throughout the game.

Erin Matson joined ranks and simply kept running into the Indian circle at will. When they did not have a shot at goal, they earned PCs. And Amanda Magadan kept converting them. At half time, the lead was gone, USA led 4-0 and India looked down and out.

India coach Sjoerd Marijne admitted there was so much going wrong, he did not know where to start with the team in the first half. “But he told us the score was 0-0 and we had a new 30-minute game to play. The result of that would decide our fate and that’s what we did in the next two quarters,” goalkeeper Savita said.

India grew post break but USA held firm. Till that one moment when, scrapping for possession and almost a dozen legs from both sides inside the circle, the ball landed with Rani and the Indian skipper stamped her mark on the game, in more ways than one.

The result: USA 4 (Amanda Magadan 2, Alyssa Parker, Kathleen Sharkey) bt India 1 (Rani Rampal). India won 6-5 on aggregate

Men's team

The Indian team has a tendency to concede goals very early or very late in a game but even by its own standards, a 22nd-second opener by Russia would be a shocker. The final result though was 7-1 in the second leg of the Olympic Qualifiers as the host booked its ticket to Tokyo with a 11-3 aggregate.

There was never a doubt of Indian victory in the men’s competition but it was a patchy performance from the World No. 5 against the World No. 22, specially in the first half. One goal in the bag and the aggregate lead cut to just one, Russia knew it had nothing to lose. It ran hard, opened up space and made full use of the openings against an erratic India. The host was also slow to pick up and the midfield was non-existent.

It took a solo effort from Lalit Upadhyay 17 minute into the match to pull India level. Akashdeep got two more in the 2nd quarter but the missed chances were much more. The finishing, so stressed upon, was messy and wayward. Ramandeep, Mandeep, Simranjeet and Sunil found ways to hit wide or over from all angles. Harmanpreet Singh fluffed two PCs.

The second half was better and India finally played the way it was expected to. The cohesion was back. The attack was sharp. The movements in rhythm. And the gap in quality visible. Russia still fought hard but there was no fightback left. And the more India went upward, the more the Russians went defensive, ceding goals, space and the game to the host.

It got the Indian men on the flight to Tokyo but coach Graham Reid and his team would do well to get back to the drawing board ahead of the Olympics, ironing out the several chinks that Russia exposed over the two games.

The result: India 7 (Rupinder Pal Singh 2, Akashdeep Singh 2, Lalit Upadhyay, Amit Rohidas, Nilakanta Sharma) bt Russia 1 (Alexey Sobolevskiy). India won 11-3 on aggregate.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 4:55:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/hockey/fih-olympics-qualifiers-matches-indian-women-and-men-hockey-teams-qualify-for-tokyo-2020-olympics/article29865396.ece

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