Asian Games 2018: Post Donghae win against Japan, India look set to retain gold after 36 years
One lethal strike from Gurjit Kaur was enough to power the Indians to the final of the Asian Games hockey event for only the third time ever. The 1-0 scoreline was not, however, reflective of the manner in which the Indians dominated the match, and they should ideally have ended up with at least a couple of more goals.
The Chinese girls were immaculate in defence which undid Sjoerd Marijne's chargers in the first half, but following the lemon break, the Indians held sway in and around the opposition circle and came close to finding the back of the net on numerous occasions.
Reena Khokar displayed her brilliance by swerving past a couple of Chinese defenders and firing in a powerful reverse which missed the mark by a whisker. Navneet Kaur and Rani Rampal too unnerved the Chinese with some superb runs and kept them busy in their own territory.
The Indians earned three back-to-back PCs in the final quarter, and Gurjit Kaur delivered a stunner of a flick which landed in the high left corner of the net. Rani Rampal and co. did not seem content with the one-goal lead and kept up the attacks till the very end.
The Golden Girls will now face Japan, and, on current form, will be expected to prevail in Friday's big final.
Sjoerd Marijne's second stint with the girls began on a high note against the Japanese at Donghae, and the Indian coach will certainly be hoping for a repeat in the final at Jakarta.
Golden Girls will hope for a repeat of Donghae
Eventual champions India were held to a 2-2 draw by Japan in the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy at Singapore and the Indians lost to Japan by a 0-2 margin in the Hockey World League semifinal in July last year.
Yet, the ease and fluency with which the Indians thrashed Japan earlier this year is no doubt heartening.
Just thirteen days after the coach swap In May, the Indian girls faced Japan in the opener of the Asian Champions Trophy at Donghae. Sjoerd Marijne was reunited with the girls camp at the venue in Korea after his assistant Eric Wonink had prepared the girls for the tournament in India.
The match was played amidst overcast conditions and the rain halted play for a while, but the defending champions were unstoppable on the day. Navneet Kaur scored a hattrick and the Indian girls welcomed their old coach back by sinking Anthony Farry's side 4-1.
A dramatic change in rankings post the Rio Olympics
At Rio in 2016, the Indians played their opener against a strong Japanese side who, no doubt, started favorites. The Japanese struck the woodwork twice and were comfortably placed at half-time with a two-goal lead. Post the long breather, Rani Rampal opened the scoring for her team while Lilima Minz restored parity for the Indians who were then coached by Neil Hawgood.
During the Olympic Games, the Japanese girls were ranked 10th while the Indians were ranked 13th. A couple of years later, the Indians have risen to be the ninth-best side in the world, while the Japanese are now ranked 14th.
At last month's World Cup, the Japanese lost by a narrow 2-3 margin to Australia and beat New Zealand 2-1 before losing 3-6 to Belgium and failed to make it past the first round.
At Jakarta, the Japanese have been unbeaten in the pool stages. In the semifinals against South Korea, the Japanese opened the scoring via a PC in the final quarter and added a second in the very last minute.
The Japanese have plenty of experience with defenders Mayumi Ono, midfielder Yukari Mano, and forwards Minami Shinizu, and Motomi Kawamura having represented their side at the Rio Olympics.
Yet, the manner in which Rani Rampal and co. have coasted to five straight victories in the last couple of weeks, in addition to their gritty show in the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup, makes them the firm favorites for the final.
A gold medal after 36 years and a ticket to Tokyo 2020 is just one step away for Sjoerd Marijne and the Indian eves.