Rio de Janeiro: Indian women’s hockey team coach Neil Hawgood has complimented his wards for their gallant fight-back to earn a point in their first Olympic appearance in 36 years in Rio de Janeiro.
India staged a fine rally from a two-goal deficit to earn a 2-2 draw with Japan, who in the end simply tried to ward off a third goal against them.
“It is only in the second half that the girls started to play the way they actually can,” said coach Hawgood. “The girls got their belief back and look at the way they had the Japanese rivals under pressure.”
Japan took the initial lead in the last minute of the first quarter through Emi Nishikori. The Indians were still playing a defensive game and were two goals behind at half-time when Mie Nakashima shot on target in the 28th minute.
There was seemed difference in the Indian game-plan in the second quarter, which coach Hawgood says was because the girls had not settled down.
“Two minutes did not seem enough to settle them down at quarter-time. After all we were playing in the Olympic Games after a 36-year gap since their only appearance at Moscow in 1980,”said coach Hawgood.
“The quarter time was about dealing with the damage,” said the coach. “Half-time was about the belief part,” he said.
The half-time talk seemed to have done wonders for the Indian girls, who seemed to have got their belief back. What the spectators then saw was the Indian girls launch all-out raids on the Japanese citadel.
It was a transformed performance, which Japanese player Mie Nakashima said stunned them. “Our legs sort of stopped and we stopped running,” she said, dejected at having let go a two-goal lead.
Japan were seeking to avenge their loss to India in the Hockey World League at Antwerp last year, which earned India their first Olympic appearance since 1980. The Japanese girls had to wait until South Africa’s refusal to play to ensure they made the trip to Brazil.
“This one point is the first we have got in 36 years at the Olympics, so we ought to be happy,” said the Indian women’s hockey team coach.
Star striker Rani Rampal brought India back in the game with her quick-silver strike into the cage early in the second half and Lilima Minz restored parity in the 40th minute on a rebound.
“You should have seen their faces when they actually realized what they had achieved in the end,” said Hawgood.
“People talk about journeys. Watching the journey of these girls is the best one I’ve got,” said Hawgood.
“I had the best seat to watch people get involved and engaged in an Olympic Games, and these were girls who really had no idea what’s the Olympic Games,” the coach said.
“Just to see their faces was a delight. It’s like a game changer for them. It gives them a little bit of respect about what they’re doing,” said Hawgood.
“They’re here, they haven’t been here for so long. Indian hockey has always been about the men, but today the girls can actually stand up and have a little bit of attention across a billion people,” he said.
Hawgood said he expected “A billion people sitting in India and saying – Wow, look at that. They can compete.They’ve got to ride the emotion and hopefully they can continue that.
India will now lock horns with Great Britain in their next group clash on Tuesday.(ANI)