Women's World Cup 2018: Epic quarterfinal beckons as India aim to be third-time lucky against Ireland
As Gurjit Kaur prepared to execute her powerful flick, Vandana Katariya moved ahead in a flash and got her stick right in the trajectory of the moving ball which was delivered dead flat and slightly to the left. Italian goalkeeper Martina Chirico had been brilliant but the well-directed deflection whizzed past well above her reach and landed in the high right-hand corner of the net.
Will the quarterfinal be a battle of PCs?
The superb PC routine enabled India to register their third goal against the Italians. The Irish girls watching from the stands may have been surprised as Vandana had managed to do precisely what Anna O'Flanagan did last Thursday.
In the crossover match, the Golden Girls executed to perfection just what the Irish had done against the Indians. It was Shirley McCay who had struck low and flat just as O'Flanagan advanced forward and crouched to get the deflection past Savita.
The early goal was quite enough for the Irish to earn full points against the Indians and qualify for the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Against the Americans too, Shirley McCay had scored via a brilliant PC and the Indians cannot afford to concede too many in the all-important clash tomorrow.
Just over a year ago, the Irish stunned the Indians scoring twice in as many minutes via PCs in the final quarter. Kathryn Mullan got a deflection in and Lizzie Colvin too found the net after Gurjit Kaur had given India the lead. As a result of the loss, the Indians finished eighth in the HWL Semifinal at Johannesburg.
Two defeats in the space of a year against a side lower in the rankings has done little to raise India's morale. Yet, last year's encounter was a classification match while the one last week was a pool game.
A World Cup quarterfinal is a different stage altogether and past results may be quite irrelevant. Do the Golden Girls now know what it takes to get the better of the Irish Green Army?
A huge occasion for both teams
A sea of green is certain to descend on the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Center tomorrow but neither the mammoth crowd nor the vociferous chants are likely to affect the Indians. The Golden Girls were totally unruffled in the opener against England and there is no reason to believe that it would be any different against the Irish.
What the Indians would be concerned about, however, is that the fact that the Irish have been exuding a confidence that is remarkable and baffling as well. The Irish coach, Graham Shaw, and his players were emphatic that they were not the least bit surprised at the fact that they were the first team in the competition to qualify for the quarterfinals.
Indian coach Sjoerd Marijne conceded that Thursday's encounter would not be easy but hoped the Indians would be third-time lucky against the Irish Green Army. In a post-match interview, he emphasized that for now, the girls need to enjoy themselves and savor the moment.
Before the Ireland match last week Marijne was clear on what he wanted. The interceptions were many, he said but the girls had failed to capitalize. Ball possession too was an area he wanted the team to focus on.
Have the girls improved on these courts?
Against the Irish last week, India managed 15 shots on goal to Ireland's 5 and had 27 circle penetrations to Ireland's 10. Ayeisha McFerran's athletic and mindboggling saves have been the talking point at London and the Indians have simply got to find a way to get past the outstanding Irish goalkeeper.
Against the Italians, the Indians managed to get 15 shots on goal while their opponents managed just 4. The Golden Girls were clearly dominant with 21 circle penetrations to Italy's 11. Possession does not seem to be an issue but finishing clearly does.
India wasted quite a few opportunities against Italy but simply cannot afford to do the same tomorrow. Udita failed to trap the ball in the circle when she had only the Italian goalie to confront. Navneet missed an absolute sitter and so did Navjot with only Chirico to beat.
A few positives did emerge against the Italians, however, and the Indians looked confident, composed, and assured, and went about their business in a workmanlike manner.
Mizo livewire Lalremsiami displayed her outrageous talent and the back four were just as calm as their coach Sjoerd Marijne as they propelled the Golden Girls into the quarterfinal of the World Cup.
Three little deflections, one from Lalremsiami, and a couple from Vandana were enough to tame the European giant-killers from Pool A. The Indians swept the Italians aside in spite of missing quite a few sitters but amidst the celebrations, captain Rani Rampal cautioned that the journey was far from over.
Indian coach Sjoerd Marijne stated emphatically that he was proud of the girls and wanted them to celebrate the moment for now. The Dutchman conceded that his chargers did not perform as well as they could have on the day but had achieved a monumental milestone for themselves and for the women's game in the country.
Rani Rampal and co. face a far more formidable task tomorrow but a victory in the quarterfinal has the potential to alter forever the way the world perceives women's hockey in India, and more importantly how the women's team is looked upon vis-a-vis the men's within the country.