The Indian women won their final match of the Hockey World League (HWL) semis 1-0 against a resilient Japan. India came into the match after a 5-4 penalty shootout win over Italy while Japan got the better of hosts Belgium to the dismay of the spectators.
India earned a penalty corner within 30 seconds of the start of the match, but star striker Poonam Rani’s shot was saved by the Japanese goalkeeper Sakiyo Asano. After the first two minutes, Japan settled into the game and forayed into the Indian D on a couple of occasions. In the 7th minute, Indian custodian Savita Punia had to stretch her foot to keep the scoreline on level terms.
Just when it looked like it would be a goalless quarter, Rani Rampal got her fourth goal of the tournament after Vandana Kataria’s sensational run. Vandana used her pace to get past her marker and her resultant shot was saved by the goalkeeper. The ball fell in Rani’s path, who hit a first-time shot into the top corner to give India the lead with a little over 2 minutes to go in the quarter.
Five minutes into the second quarter, Japan were awarded their first penalty corner of the match. The resultant drag-flick was deflected in forward Mie Nakashima’s path by Akiko Kato, but the No. 9 was unable to apply the finishing touches to the move when it looked like it was easier to score. The final minute of the half, Japan earned another short corner, but were unable to trouble Rajani Etimarpu, who had replaced Savita between the sticks for the second quarter.
Goalkeeper Savita shines in second half
Savita came back on for the third quarter as coach Mathias Ahrens opted to rotate his goalkeepers. The Japanese failed to make the most of their third penalty corner as well. However, this time they hit the target and even beat the keeper, Savita, but Monika stopped the ball on the line and cleared to keep India in the lead.
Japan kept the momentum they build ever since India’s goal going in the final 15 minutes. India, before the start of the quarter, were warned by the officials regarding time-wasting as they were taking too much time from free hits and set-pieces. The Japanese kept on attacking the Indian goal and were awarded back-to-back penalty corners.
India’s number 1 goalkeeper Savita denied them on both occasions, the first with her left hand and the second with a sensational diving save to her right. Japan kept on attacking as India sat back to keep hold of their lead. After a referral, the Japanese got a short corner, but India managed to hold on and in the final minute went on the counter as Japan had committed numbers forward. However, India’s counter failed to result in anything and Japan came forward for their final attack of the match.
They were awarded another penalty corner with just 25 seconds left on the clock. Fortunately for the Indians, the Japanese failed to trap the ball and India cleared. The hooter went soon after as India confirmed a 5th spot in the HWL semis while Japan finished 6th. India have a good chance of qualifying for the Olympics for the first time since 1980.