Hockey

Indian women prove they are champions

Rani Rampal stepped up for the shootout, swerved and dodged past Chinese goalkeeper Ye Jiao and slotted the ball in.

It was sudden death and India goalkeeper Savita Punia, the saviour in innumerable matches, stepped up once again. Meiyu Liang's shot was saved and, at 8.15 p.m. in Kakamigahara, Japan, the Indian women were crowned Asia Cup champions.

The last time Indian women became hockey champions of Asia was 13 years ago.

Not one of the girls from that triumph in Delhi is active any more, but the one common factor between the two victories is the presence of an Indian coach.

It's been a long road for the team back to the top of the podium. The Indian men's win two weeks ago, was expected. The women's win, however, is a much bigger achievement for several reasons.

India is fourth in Asia and 12th in the world. The highest ranked Asian team is eighth-placed China, whom India beat twice, including in the final. Japan was overpowered in the semifinals.

India's last title had come exactly a year ago — November 5, 2016 — against the same opponent, at the Asian Champions Trophy.

The girls also wanted to prove they were going to the World Cup on merit.

“We were almost 99 per cent certain of qualifying even without the title here, but I wanted the girls to win and prove themselves. Earning a spot and being gifted one are completely different feelings,” coach Harendra Singh had declared even before the game, adding he was confident of winning.

M.K. Kaushik, under whom India won the Asia Cup last in 2004, agreed. “Earlier it was only Rani scoring. She was even made to take penalty corners. Now everyone is contributing in every department. It shows the way Harendra has motivated this team,” a beaming Kaushik said.

Asked about the positives from the tournament, his first in charge of the side and first ever assignment with a women's team, Harendra said there were many but underlined two.

“Self belief and ability to score. The girls now believe they can score against any one and do not have to remain stuck defending.

“Second, they know they have the ability to score at any point. They have realised that the game is never over till the final hooter so if they can concede at the last moment, they can score also,” he said, before being pulled away by a bunch of screaming girls for celebrations — all too young to remember the previous victory but old enough to know the magnitude of their achievement.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 9:45:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/hockey/indian-women-hockey-prove-they-are-champions/article19988123.ece

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