Indian women's hockey team registered a comprehensive victory over United States of America in the first of two matches in the FIH Olympic qualifiers. At the magnificent Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, the Rani-led team showed their quality to humble a spirited American team.
The Indian eves started the match with great aggression and were pressing high in the USA half. But after the first few minutes, the balance in the game shifted as the Americans, with their good structure and calm play, starting launching attacks of their own. The Indian team seemed to neglect their defensive work while attacking and fared poorly in terms of marking.
Both teams were also making too many basic errors like mis-passing. This was probably a sign of nerves with both teams fully aware that they are playing in the Olympic qualifiers. By the end of the first quarter, both teams had settled down a bit but the visitors had the upper hand.
After the first break, the Indians seemed to take up a more calculated and patient approach. Both teams were now playing with a firmness though wrong passes were still too many. in the seventh minute of the second quarter, captain of the Indian team, Rani, led a great run through the center into the circle to earn a penalty corner.
The Indian team couldn't do anything with this first corner of the match and the USA team quickly responded by getting one of their own, that too proved unproductive. India's formidable forward line was now starting to assert itself in the game and the defence too had tightened up.
With less than a minute remaining in the first half of the first Olympic qualifier match, India had another penalty corner which was mis-trapped at the top of the circle. Somehow, the Indian players were able to retrieve the ball and pass it to Neha Goyal who was standing close to the baseline. Goyal, cleverly, passed the ball to Lilima Minz standing in front of an open goal, unmarked, and pushed the ball in to give his team the lead.
The floodgates had opened. The second half started with India looking stronger and more controlled. Rani was getting into form and other forwards like Salima Tete were also making inroads.
Then, in the 40th minute of the match, Vandana Katariya came up with a brilliant run from the left into the circle and passed the ball towards Sharmila Devi in front of the goal. The ball was deflected by Sharmila into the goal to double India's lead.
The home side wasn't going to relent on a big stage such as an Olympic qualifier. Two minutes later, there was a penalty corner for them and Gurjit Kaur, the PC specialist, registered her own presence with a thundering drag-flick to give India a third successful strike.
The next goal came in the 46th minute thanks to a brilliant run from Salima Tete who charged through the midfield unchallenged and then passed the ball shrewdly to Navneet Kaur who only had the goalkeeper to beat. She did that and India was now 4-0 ahead.
The fifth goal was slightly controversial as India got a penalty stroke for stick-check within the circle. The decision was referred and it seemed the USA had a strong case but the TV umpire upheld the decision and Gurjit converted the stroke to give India another goal.
With this near-invincible lead, India settled down to playing calmly whereas the Americans looked for goals. India's defence was now looking very strong with full-back Deep Grace Ekka playing a leading role.
USA did get a consolation goal through a penalty-stroke in the 52nd minute with Erin Matson scoring. But it was too late and the 5-1 scoreline is what the first Olympic qualifier game ended with.