Hockey Olympic Qualifiers: India keep hopes alive with brilliant 3-1 win over New Zealand

India came up with a far more cohesive and less error-strewn game, to outplay New Zealand 3-1 to fight from a loss in their opening match

Ranchi, Jan 14 (IANS) India came up with a far more cohesive and less error-strewn game, to outplay New Zealand 3-1 to fight from a loss in their opening match to maintain their chances of making it to the semis and stay alive their dream of making it to the Paris Olympic.

Sangita Kumari opened the scoring in the 1st minute and Udita made it 2-0 in the 12th minute scoring a goal on her birthday before Beauty Dung Dung (16th min) scored the third goal in a brilliant first quarter for the hosts. Though Megan Hull reduced the margin for the Black sticks, the hosts did not let their performance slack in the remaining three quarters to score a morale-boosting victory in the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers at the Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Astro-Turf Hockey Stadium here on Sunday.

The victory meant that both India and New Zealand are with three points from one win each while the United States led the way with six points from two wins.

India dominated the match, enjoyed a 52% position, had 12 circle penetrations as compared to 14 by New Zealand, and had 11 shots at goal as compared to five by their opponents as they attacked and defended in numbers to score their first victory over New Zealand in regulation time.

The Indians adopted a diamond formation with Lalremsiami as a lone attacker and Navneet Kaur at the heart of it with Sangita playing wide and along with the mercurial Salima Tete, creating room on the right flank to launch swift attacks. Udita also got a starring role in a strong back three with Nonika and Nikki Pradhan.

India’s first goal came from that side of the field even before the players had settled into their positions as Sangita Kumari scored a fine goal off the initial attack from close range to make it 1-0 for the hosts in the first minute itself.

New Zealand bagged their first PC after a mistake by Monika. Not a clean trap and though the Black Sticks made it into the circle, Nisha did well to deny them.

India earned their first PC in the eighth minute when Vaishnavi was thwarted from taking a shot off a move initiated by Salima Tete. Deepika flicked into the rushers and the resultant pass came to Sangeetia but she diverted into the goalkeeper.

New Zealand launched another strong attack and a mistake by Vaishnavi, due to an inclusive video referral, earned the Black Sticks a penalty corner and Megal Hull converted with a fine flick.

India bagged their third penalty corner when Ralph Hope made a clumsy tackle. The first attempt by Deepika was unsuccessful but India got a re-penalty and this time Udita did not make a mistake with a superb slap shot past the goalkeeper to make it 2-1.

With two minutes to go for the end of the first quarter, India earned another penalty-corner thanks to a hard run by Salima Tete. Though the attempt did not fructify, the Indians continued the high press and were rewarded when Beauty Dung Dung scored their third goal off a move initiated by Salima Tete and Lalremsiami, despite being hit, sent the ball came to Baljeet Kaur who pushed it to Beauty, whose attempt went in off a New Zealand defender’s stick.

New Zealand had a chance of a good counterattack but was denied by the Indian defence as the hosts led 3-1 at the end of the first quarter.

They earned a penalty corner, their fourth of the match, but Udita’s attempt at setting up Sangita for a deflecting did not materialise.

The Black Sticks earned a penalty corner at the other end of the pitch a few minutes later when a forward was obstructed but Megal Hull’s attempt was blocked by the first rusher.

With the Indians setting a frantic pace the first quarter was played at a lightening tempo. But midway through the second quarter, the Black Sticks slowed it down and the tempo settled a notch down in the last few minutes of the first half as the hosts went into the half-time break, leading 3-1.

The hosts started a bit erratically in the third quarter, pressing forward but Salima and Navneet made useless passes, spraying the ball wide.

As the Indians missed a couple of chances, New Zealand earned their fourth penalty corner when a block by Savita landed into the body of a defender. But an indirect variation by Frances Davies to Megan Hull behind her back was not perfect and the Black Sticks missed the chance.

A good run by Lalremsiami from the right flank resulted in the ball hitting the leg of Julia King earning India their fifth PC. But a bad push-in by Salima did not allow Deepika the opportunity to take a strong shot. Both the teams launched a couple of attacks each but failed to find the mark as India maintained their 3-1 advantage going into the final quarter of the match.

New Zealand made a couple of circle penetrations in the first quarter but the Indians defended in numbers with Nisha, Nikki and Neha standing tall to blunt the attacks. The Indians slowed down the pace and tried to keep position to stop the New Zealand buildup.

New Zealand had a penalty with less than two minutes to go but it was a poor attempt as the Indians let the clock run down and scored a morale-boosting victory.


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