In a match that tested the fortitude of both the players and their fans, the Indian women's hockey team managed to score one goal in a 1-4 defeat which was enough to give them victory in the Olympic qualifiers. This was despite a rather poor performance for a large part of the match which made India's chances look bleak for quite some time.
The first half was an absolute horror show from India. The American team though deserves a lot of credit. Unlike the first game of the Olympic qualifiers played yesterday, the Indian eves didn't start off in an attacking manner. It was the visiting team that went into overdrive right from the beginning. They seemed desperate and were hardly letting the ball go.
Indian players seemed unable to keep possession. Turnovers and mis-passes were aplenty. Marking inside the circle also seemed missing from the hosts. The attack on the Indian defence was spearheaded by USA captain Kathleen Sharkey. She was slicing through the Indian midfield and defence with ridiculous ease.
In the fifth minute of this second game in the FIH Olympic qualifiers between India and USA, the Americans opened their account with a penalty corner variation. It was Amanda Magadan who took a direct hit at the goal after the drag-flicker bluffed the Indian runners. The second goal came in the 12th minute thanks to a strike by Sharkey. The USA captain was again in the forefront as a brilliant run and pass into the circle which allowed Alyssa Parker to make it 3-0.
The Americans were unrelenting and weren't allowing the very capable Indian forward line to mount any serious attacks. Captain Rani did manage a good run into the circle to get a penalty corner but Gurjit Kaur failed to make a mark today unlike the first match of these Olympic qualifiers.
The Indians were looking in sixes and sevens. The ball was being stolen from them far too easily and too much space was being given to American forwards. The frustration was manifesting on the field from the Indian side and the team picked up one yellow and one green card.
This resulted in a two-player disadvantage and that immediately stung the team as another goal was scored by the Americans, Magadan getting her second. This made the aggregate score level and sent shivers down the spine of Indian fans.
By the end of the first half, the host team looked like a side that just wanted to get off the field. The wind had gone out of their sails of the unit, for the moment in these Olympic qualifiers.
The second half saw them playing a little more calmly and steadily. But the Americans made a big mistake. They decided to go on the defensive. Attacks from the visiting team completely dried up and the Indian team started pushing forward to take the lead again in these Olympics qualifiers.
The match now became a contest between the Indian side trying to force their way into the American circle and the defence of the latter trying desperately to keep the attackers at bay. But this pattern was bound to yield results for Rani's team sooner rather than later.
Penalty corners started coming India's way but Gurjeet looked completely out of form. The third quarter was goal-less but the winds had started to change direction.
In the fourth quarter, the Indian team kept pushing. Eventually, a shot into the circle was stopped by the American goalkeeper but the two defenders in front of her messed up badly and in confusion, couldn't clear the ball quickly. When they did, the ball went to Rani who had a lot of space and she rammed home the goal that put India forward on aggregate again in the Olympic qualifiers.
This one goal was all India needed to turn the game around. The Americans couldn't regain their attacking flair of the first half and the Indian eves were now growing in confidence. The defenders were not allowing any decent attacks and the rest of the team also prevented the opposing players from moving the ball around freely.
The Americans seemed out of firepower by the end and the Indian team was able to hold onto their aggregate lead and, despite losing the match, take the victory in the Olympic qualifiers.