Asian Games 2018: Indian women's hockey team wins Asiad silver after 20 years to end an eventful season
The Indian girls did just about everything right but failed to find the back of the net twice in a fast-paced final at Jakarta. Anthony Farry's side converted both their PCs to end India's hopes of winning gold after a gap of 36 years.
The Japanese need not have won gold to qualify for Tokyo 2020 being the hosts, but for the Indians, it will be the beginning of a new challenge when the dust settles after an agonizing loss.
Women's hockey - the Asiad journey down the years
Appu, the elephant was the mascot, as over 3000 athletes from 33 countries converged upon the national capital New Delhi to participate in the ninth edition of the Asian Games competition. A proud nation played host to Asia's best athletes and had the option to watch the proceedings at home, in colour, for the first time ever.
Yet, the 1982 Games have been best remembered through the years for India's ignominious defeat to Pakistan in the men's hockey final by a huge 1-7 margin which has managed to overshadow all else that transpired at Delhi.
Women's hockey was given a place for the first time in the history of the Games in 1982, and the Indian women beat Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea to claim the first gold medal of the event.
At 1998, at Bangkok, the Indians lost to South Korea in the final but beat the Koreans to win bronze at Doha in 2006.
Yet, no Indian side has been as fit, as fast, or as consistent as Rani Rampal and co. have been over the last couple of years, establishing themselves as an Asian powerhouse, and making a mark on the world stage too.
Golden Girls very nearly script history at Jakarta
The Indians stormed through the pool stages, beating hosts Indonesia 8-0, Kazakhstan 21-0, South Korea 4-1, and Thailand 5-0 before beating China by a solitary goal in the semifinal.
Gurjit Kaur has been outstanding for the Indians with her powerful drag-flicks while captain Rani Rampal missed a couple of matches because of a thigh strain but made a superb comeback with a hattrick against Thailand and has been instrumental in guiding her side to the final.
Alas, Gurjit failed to convert the only PC which her side earned in the final while the Japanese converted both of theirs. Minami Shimizu put the Indians on the back foot after giving her side the lead off a PC in the 10th minute.
Neha Goyal directed Navneet's pass into the net in the 25th minute to restore parity for her side, but the Indians had no answer to Japan's second goal which Motomi Kawamura scored off their second PC in the 43rd minute.
Indian coach Sjoerd Marijne rued the fact that the girls failed to create more chances when he spoke to Sportskeeda after the match.
"You must take the opportunities you get in these kinds of matches, and that is the only part we didn’t do well enough. Defending was good but we could have created more opportunities and PCs."
Fantastic year for the Indian eves - but for the elusive gold
The Indians failed to make it to the final of the Commonwealth Games earlier this year even though they punched well above their weight to beat Olympic champions England, and lost narrowly to Australia in the semifinal.
Following a coach swap on May 1, Sjoerd Marijne rejoined the girls camp after eight months replacing Harendra Singh and the Indian girls continued their stupendous show beating Japan, China, and Malaysia en route to a silver medal in the Asian Champions Trophy.
The Indians lost by a 0-1 margin, to hosts South Korea in the final at Donghae but were impressive as ever, as they outplayed their opponents playing fast and attacking hockey.
At the London World Cup, the Indian eves took the lead against England in the opener and failed to be cowed down by a jam-packed crowd of English supporters. The hosts just about managed a late equalizer. but the Indians were the better team on the day.
Eventual silver-medalists Ireland proved to be India's nemesis at London, and the Indians were unfortunate in not being able to make the World Cup semifinals.
The Indians eves marched menacingly to the Asian Games final but were outdone by the pace of the Japanese strikers who always advanced in numbers and made each move count.
The Indians, on the other hand, failed to get going until the third quarter, and when they eventually did, the ball simply refused to get past the goal line in spite of some sustained attacks.
A busy season has thus ended, and the Indian girls have moved up the rankings by four slots in two years and are currently the ninth-best side in the world.
A silver medal after 20 years, is indeed a remarkable achievement for Rani Rampal and co. in spite of the fact that going by their recent performances, a gold at Jakarta was definitely within reach.
Despite the distress and the disappointment, Indian women's hockey has indeed come of age, and the girls can rightly feel proud when they return home with the silverware.