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Hockey Olympic Qualifiers: Runaway win for Indian women

Reason to smile: Sharmila Devi, centre, celebrates scoring India’s second goal.

Reason to smile: Sharmila Devi, centre, celebrates scoring India’s second goal.   | Photo Credit: BiswaranjanRout

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The team will rest well following the 5-1 verdict against USA

If Sjoerd Marijne had been told before Friday’s game that his girls would have a four-goal margin at the end of the first leg of the hockey Olympic Qualifiers, he would have been happy.

As it turned out, it was a 5-1 verdict.

It has been a different Indian team in the last 18 months. It plays smart and is aware of game situations. USA, which won 3-0 at the Rio Olympics three years ago, would be the first to admit that.

First blood

A mis-trapped penalty corner in the 28th minute saw Indian forwards exchanging possession before Neha Goyal, placed on the back-line, managed to push the ball through a flurry of legs to an unmarked Lilima Minz at the far corner. The latter coolly tapped it in.

The defensive lapse was enough to energise the Indians.

Historical data and recent form was loaded against the host and the first 15 minutes was all nerves with USA dominating in all areas.

Captain Kathleen Sharkey was all over the field — troubling the Indian defence, marshalling the midfield, directing her players around and passing impeccably. Lilima’s goal, coming against the run of play, changed all that.

A second by an unmarked Sharmila Devi in the 40th minute was similar.

A different Indian side took the field after the break. And, it was as much a story of two captains.

While Sharkey gradually became quieter and USA strangely went on the backfoot, Rani Rampal stepped up. Three of the seven penalty corners India earned had her imprint.

Two of the goals came off moves triggered by her. And as she grew, the rest settled into their roles.

The culmination was the fourth goal, in the 46th minute — three passes all the way from the Indian defence to Navneet at the top of the circle, who took her time to control and shoot past Kelsey Bing.

Not too excited

Post match, Marijne was satisfied, but not too excited. He would sleep well but knew it was only half the work done.

“You know how the process can go. You don't get the ticket to Tokyo today, you have nothing so far,” he said when asked if the team had one foot in the Olympics.

A repeat of Friday for another 60 minutes on Saturday would ensure the ticket.

The result: India 5 (Gurjit Kaur 2, Navneet Kaur, Sharmila Devi, Lilima Minz) bt USA 1 (Erin Matson).

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 4:47:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/hockey/hockey-olympic-qualifiers-runaway-win-for-indian-women/article29857271.ece

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