Hiroshima [Japan]: A day after qualifying for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers, Indian women’s hockey team on Sunday won the FIH Women’s Series Finals after defeating the tournament hosts Japan 3-1 at the Hiroshima Hockey Stadium.
Skipper Rani Rampal, the best player of the tournament, netted a goal in the third minute but India conceded an equalizer in the 11th minute as Japan’s Kanon Mori scored. However, a brace from Gurjit Kaur, the top scorer of the tournament, scored in the 45th and 60th minutes took India to an emphatic victory.
In the first quarter, skipper Rani stepped up to score for India in the first penalty corner. Rani struck the ball along the ground and beat the Japanese goalkeeper Akio Tanaka on her right side to give India a 1-0 advantage.
India’s dominance saw them win their second penalty corner in the ninth minute, but the team gave a foul away in the execution. Japan were unable to create opportunities for themselves as they could only manage two circle entries in the entire first 15 minutes. But, when they did enter the circle on the second occasion, the Japanese forward-line combined to score an equalizer from their very first shot at goal.
It was Japan’s Sakurako Omoto who picked up the ball at the 25-yard line, and played in a pass on the right flank to Yuri Nagai on the baseline, who then played a pass across goal which was successfully deflected by Kanon Mori onto the Indian goalkeeper Savita, who could not react in time and conceded the goal.
In the second quarter, India maintained possession which saw forward Vandana Katariya miss a glorious opportunity in the 18th minute as she picked up a loose clearance from just outside the striking circle, and ran into it to take a strike, but her shot went just wide of the post across goal. Japan also started to get into their rhythm and tried to create chances by using the flanks, but India’s defensive cohesion made sure that they did not concede again.
World number nine India controlled possession well as they made five circle entries compared to Japan’s zero. The likes of Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam and Lilima Minz stepped up to help break Japanese attacks and rotated the ball comfortably to create opportunities for India. However, a better performance by the Japanese defense in the final few minutes of the second quarter meant that both the teams went into the half-time break level at 1-1.
India stepped up their attacking flair again in the opening minutes of the third quarter winning two penalty corners, but could not convert them into a second goal. Both the teams tried to look to take the important lead, with Japan making two circle entries and getting two shots away, while India made eight entries and took five shots.
However, the last of those five shots was the one which gave India the lead as constant pressure on the Japanese in the latter stages of the third quarter saw India win another penalty corner through captain Rani. It was drag-flicker Gurjit who was India’s saviour yet again as she dispatched the ball into the top left corner of the Japanese goal to give her side a 2-1 lead in the 45th minute.
India managed the fourth quarter well as they maintained possession in the initial minutes with Navneet Kaur and Rani having opportunities to seal the victory with a third goal but their efforts were kept out by the Japanese goalkeeper. But on the other side of the field, India defended well from penalty corners to avoid conceding an equalizer.
With just five minutes remaining in the match, Japan decided to take off their goalkeeper for an extra outfield player, and that helped them in creating some opportunities, however, it also worked against them in the last minute of the match as Gurjit scored her second goal of the match through a penalty corner to make it 3-1 and wrap up the victory for India.