On 9th September 2019, when the official draws for FIH Olympic Qualifier were held at the headquarters of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in Lausanne, Switzerland, India hockey lovers were left in dilemma.
On one side the men’s team had to face Russian team which was an easy opponent while on the other side women’s team had to face tricky American challenge. But on Friday, a 5-1 win for India women and a tough 4-2 win for the men had put all predictions to shame.
First Leg – India 5-1 USA
The American team had given a tough challenge to Indian side. In the first 10 minutes only, USA had three off target shots. On one end Indian defense line was struggling to keep away the American attack, while on other side the the midfield and forward line was not able to make the sharp moves, the long-short pass strategy was not working effectively.
When last few minutes left in first quarter, coach Sjoerd Marijine immediately called skipper Rani Rampal on bench to change the game plan. Indian Eves switched to dribbling style, which had turned the face of the game. In second quarter India’s defense line was more assured and confident and had denied the American attack at multiple occasions. Captain Rani Rampal took charge at the centre to steal the possession. When 8 minutes left for the half time hooter, Rani won first penalty corner for India but Gurjeet was not able to clear it, after this USA also got 2 corners in three minutes but failed on both occasion.
India scored the first goal in 29th minute after Sharmila failed to trap the ball during Penalty corner ck version, Neha Goyal from base line took the charge, brilliantly dodged defender and pass the ball to Lilima Minz who brilliantly put host on lead. In the 3rd quarter the USA kept pressing the Indian defence but the one goal lead had done some wonder to host. The team was more confident and making continuous attack on the opponent. India score back to back goals in 40th and 42nd minute (Courtesy Sharmila and Gurjeet) which had put the guest under pressure.
In the 4th quarter India kept the same momentum and scored 2 more goals through Navneet and Gurjeet, and gave a 5-0 undefeatable lead, USA scored the consolation goal in 54th minute. The first game ended at 5-1 scoreline in favor of Women in Blue but it was half job done for Rani Rampal and Co. as they had to outscore the American side by better aggregate by the end of 2nd game on Saturday. The best takeaway from the game was Indian side was able to change the strategy immediately, after the poor first half, Rani Rampal had changed the face of the game, which had given more confidence to defence line and goalkeeper Savita.
Neha and Vandana kept the both the flanks very busy in attacking side. Vandana has shown her usual game of good passes from the flanks, for which she is always known for.
Second Leg – India 1-5 USA (6-5 Aggregate)
And as expected the 2nd game was not like yesterday. It would be called as a game of excitement and heart attacks. USA came along with a different plan today and they took benefit of it by earning penalty corner in the early minutes of the first quarter and got their first goal via Amanda Magdan in the 5th minute. Indian defense line was completely under huge pressure and the Americans had taken advantage of this by taking possession and capitalized this opportunity when striker Kathleen Sharkley scored just one minute before the first hooter.
The score was 2-0 in favor of guest at the end of quarter one. India was still leading by 5-3 on aggregate. The story was same in the second quarter and, Alyassa Parker (20th minute) and Amanda (28th minute) scored two more goals before half time hooter and made it 4-0. On aggregate it was now 5-5 and if the score had stayed at the same scoreline, the match would have gone to shoot out. In half time break it seemed coach Sjored had changed the game plan completely and India was playing a different game in the 2nd half.
Monika was playing the key role in defence line, meanwhile Indian earned 2 penalty corners but failed on both occasion and now it was all about scoring a winner or taking game into shoot out.
Rani Rampal make it to Olympics
But Rani Rampal had a different plan in mind, in 48th minute of the game she had scored the vital goal and took the aggregate shoreline to 6-5. When last 3 minutes left in the game, USA got two penalty corners but India’s quick decision to take referrals had over turned these decisions.
USA won the match but their dream to qualify for the Olympic games has been shattered, on the other side Indian eves qualified for the Olympics 3rd time (2nd time in row.)
As expected USA was tricky opponent but Coach Sjored’s strategy worked very well for the team and they edge past the Tricky Opponent in most exciting way.
Written by – Anshul Chavhan