A first-quarter goal from striker Rani Rampal helped the Indian women’s hockey team bag the 5th position at the FIH Hockey World League semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium. India defeated Japan 1-0 in the 5th-6th place playoff and are still in the race for a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
First half: Rani Rampal scores to put India in lead
After beating Italy 5-4 on penalties in their previous outing, the Indian eves were ready to give it their all to secure the fifth place. They started off aggressively and earned a penalty corner from their very first attack! Sadly, the women in blue could not capitalize on the golden opportunity as the ball was swept wide of the goal post. The 13th minute saw Japanese defender Nagisa Hayashi leave the field following an injury- a vital blow for the team.
In the very next minute, Vandana Katariya won the ball in the midfield and set off to a blazing run as she got past her marker quite comfortably. She managed to find a shot on target but was denied by Ryoko Oie under the post. Rani Rampal received the ball from the rebound and smashed it on the half-volley straight over the Japanese keeper’s head and into the post. A lofted straight drive over the keeper’s head that would be remembered for long! India remained 1-0 ahead after the second quarter as well, following a couple of missed opportunities from Japan.
Second half: Savita Punia helps India hold on to lead
India’s coach Mathias Ahrens opted to rotate his goalkeepers and Savita Punia replaced Rajani Etimarpu in the third quarter. The Indian custodian ensured zero damage, denying every possible Japanese effort. Japan also failed to make the most of their penalty corner attempts. In the fourth quarter, Savita parried off a drag-flick that was hit straight to her. Japan had their final chance in the last minute of the match through yet another penalty corner. This time, the Indian defenders combined well to deny their opponents and therefore won the match by a slender 1-0 margin.
How can the Indian women’s hockey team qualify for Rio 2016?
After bowing out of the quarterfinals, it was mandatory for India to finish at least 5th or 6th on the Hockey World League table. The win against Japan sees them take the 5th spot and keep their Olympic hopes alive. For India to qualify for Rio 2016, two of the following three tournaments need to be decided as follows:
1. Australia or New Zealand win the Oceania Championship – Since the start of the tournament (1999), one out of these two have won it, so it is very likely that one spot will open up.
2. One of the following teams – Great Britain, Netherlands and Germany win the European Championship – These three are the only teams to have ever won the tournament.
3. Argentina or USA win the Pan American Championship – The American women are the defending champions and prior to that, Argentina had won it 6 times on the trot.
These scenarios favour India’s cause and the Eves have a high possibility of making it to the 2016 Rio Olympics. If they succeed to do so, the women’s team will be participating in the Olympics after a gap of 35 years. They were last seen at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
As Rani Rampal mentioned in the post match interview, “We cannot even imagine how happy we will be on qualifying “. Here’s hoping to a very happy Indian women’s hockey team !
India 1 (Rani Rampal 13′) beat Japan 0.