Tokyo: Navneet Kaur scored a late winner as the Indian women’s hockey team kept its quarterfinals hopes alive in the Olympics with a 1-0 win over Ireland in a must-win penultimate pool match here Friday.
After goal-less three quarters, which India completely dominated but failed to breach the Irish defence led by goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran, Navneet finally found the back of the net in the 57th minute to bring smiles on the Indian faces.
Needing a win to keep their hopes alive after three consecutive losses, India had to wait anxiously for 57 minutes despite being the dominant team on display and creating innumerable scoring chances.
India had chances galore from the opening whistle and got as many as 14 penalty corners but failed to utilise even a single one.
But a moment of brilliance from skipper Rani Rampal, who created the opportunity for Navneet, rescued India from an early exit from the Games. Navneet was at the right place at the right time to tap the ball in.
India will now need to win their final Pool A match against South Africa on Saturday and hope Ireland loses to Great Britain to seal their quarterfinal berth.
The top four teams from each pool qualify for the knockout stage.
India’s chief coach Sjoerd Marijne is relieved to be still in the hunt and said the never-say-die attitude of the players saved the day.
“The only thing we can blame ourselves for is that we didn’t score enough. It’s not easy to score penalty corners against Ireland, but our performance was not good on a few occasions, but we kept going.
“Getting 15 PCs in the match says a lot and I like to talk about the positive that we got those PCs. And the dynamic in our game today was really good and we outplayed Ireland, but you won’t see it in the numbers. We kept going in the match, we didn’t stop,” he said.
He said the win has also shown that the quality the team has gone up.
“Now it’s all about recovery and getting ready for the next match.”
India started aggressively and penetrated Ireland circle innumerable times but, as has been the case in the tournament so far, the forward line lacked finishing.
While India dominated the first two quarters, they failed to convert their dominance into goals. India’s dominance can be gauged from the fact that they earned as many as 10 penalty corners in the first two quarters but wasted all.
India got their first first penalty corner in the eight minute and two minutes later they secured two more set pieces after Navneet’s reverse shot was saved by McFerran.
India got two penalty corners a minute from the end of first quarter but the script was the same.
Ireland came out attacking in the second quarter and dominated the early exchanges of the session. They secured a penalty corner in the 18th minute which yielded no result.
In the 22nd minute, Lalremsiami was denied by an onrushing McFerran from one-on-one situation.
Ireland had two chances soon — first in the form of a penalty corner and then from open play — but on both occasion India goalkeeper Savita came to her side’s rescue.
India’s frustrating wait continued as a minute before half time they wasted as many as five penalty corners.
Soon after the change of ends India got three more penalty corners but the result was same.
Minutes later, Ireland got a penalty corner which India defended stoutly.
In the 39th minute, Sharmila Devi made a brilliant solo run from the midfield and upon entering the circle tried a reverse stick hit which was kept away by McFerran.
India secured their 14th penalty corner soon but again made a mess of the chance.
But the Indians didn’t give up and continued to attack and minutes from the final hooter Navneet saved her side from early elimination, much to the relief of Marijne.
India skipper Rani said it was heartening to see the calm approach of the team which was under immense pressure.
“We had so many penalty corners and Ireland defended well. We missed so many opportunities. But we were still in the game and we told each other to be patient and be calm and we will get our chances,” she said.
“There was lot of pressure because this was a must-win game for both teams. And I am so proud because we stayed calm.”