Asian Champions Trophy 2018: Indian girls script dream return for Sjoerd Marijne with 4-1 thrashing of Japan
Neither the heavy rains which halted play for a while nor the dark clouds which hung ominously over the stadium for most of the match were enough to dampen the spirits of Sunita Lakra and her team as they sounded a warning to all their Asian rivals with a facile opening win against Japan.
The Indian girls had been guilty of getting off to sluggish starts at Gold Coast and taking a while to get into attacking gear. All that seems to have changed, as India launched the offensive right at the onset and earned a PC within the first couple of minutes. The Indians refused to take their feet off the pedal and raided the Japanese circle time and again before Navneet Kaur found the net in the 7th minute.
While the barrage of attacks continued unabated, the Indian defenders were tidy and unhurried as they undid Japan's efforts to surprise on the counter. India doubled their lead in the 24th minute with a peach of a goal.
Vandana weaved her way through the Japanese defence and almost toyed with the Japanese defenders before directing a pass to Navneet who took her time to take the shot but still beat the Japanese goalie. The goal was in many ways reflective of the way the entire match was played out with India reigning supreme in every department.
A couple of minutes post the long breather, Gurjit Kaur's powerful flick ricocheted off the cross-bar and the rain came pelting down soon after. Play was suspended for a while but the break did little to alter the pattern of the game.
Japan was unable to find an opening goal in spite of earning several PCs in the circle and with less than ten minutes to go, all India had to do was to play down the clock and sit on a two-goal lead. Instead, Anupa Barla added her name to the scoresheet in the 53rd minute and Navneet Kaur scored a third a couple of minutes later to seal the deal for the defending champions.
Sjoerd Marijne could scarcely have expected a better start to his second stint with the Golden Girls and said he did not expect them to score that many. "I am happy with the win and I did not expect the girls to score four goals."
"We intercepted a lot of balls and created a lot of opportunities," said the Dutchman reacting to India's performance.
India could have scored a couple more goals as well, such was their dominance on the day and Navneet Kaur acknowledged that she was pleased to be the player of the match for the first time in an international tournament.
India defeated China twice to scale Mount Asia in the finals of the Asia Cup last year and the previous edition of the Asian Champions Trophy in 2016. Will the Chinese girls be seeking retribution after a controversial end to the Singapore final? An absorbing contest is on the cards next as two of the most powerful Asian sides cross swords yet again on May 15.
For now, though, the Indian girls have scripted a perfect welcome gift for coach Sjoerd Marijne who is back with the team after eight months and who will look to build on the success of a squad who are well on their path to ascendancy.