Indian women fight back with a 2-2 draw against Japan in a close match
While the men's hockey team started the Rio Olympics on a positive note with a nervy 3-2 win over Ireland, the women's team fought back after conceding two goals with a 2-2 draw against a resilient Japan in the first match of the tournament.
Both teams had a fair share of possession in the first 15 minutes with Preeti Dubey and Poonam Rani came close to scoring the first goal for India. Just when it looked like it would be a goalless quarter, Emie Nishikori opened the scoring for the tenth-ranked team from a penalty corner in the final minute.
The first few minutes of the second quarter saw the ball exchange ends rapidly but the most impressive part was the never-give-up attitude of the Sushila Chanu-led side, which has helped them qualify for this competition under the captaincy of Ritu Rani.
Rani Rampal and Vandana Kataria settled into the game in the second quarter and forayed into the Japan D on a couple of occasions. But India conceded yet another goal with Mie Nakashima drove the ball high into the net, past a diving Savita Punia two minutes before the hooter went off to signal the halfway mark.
An upbeat India earned a PC in the third minute of the third quarter and star striker Rani Rampal struck India's first goal at the with an impeccable flick into the far corner of the Japanese goal. India got another penalty corner in the closing stages in the penultimate quarter, and Lilima Minz pushed the ball into the net.
Savita Punia denied Japan a goal in the last second with her left hand and the second with a sensational diving save to her right.
Poonam Rani and the other strikers kept the momentum they built in the final 15 minutes. Although Japan kept on attacking the Indian woodwork with two back-to-back efforts, they failed to find the winner.
Today’s result will provide quite a lot of encouragement for Neil Hawgood's side before they take on Great Britain in their second match at the same venue. The 'Women in Blue' are expected to give their all in a tough group, which also includes teams such as Great Britain, Argentina, Australia, USA.
The players might be in one of the weakest teams of the tournament, but that was not visible in their approach right from the first quarter. The match was a historic occasion for the women players as they qualified for the Games after a gap of 36 long years.