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Friday, February 24, 2012

Indian Women beat Italy at FIH - Road to London

Good news for Indian Hockey Fans – the women’s Team  are just one match away from qualifying for the Summer Olympics 2012 scheduled to be held at London, from 27 July to 12 August 2012.  In Olympics Women’s Hockey, , each of the continental champions receives a berth alongside the host, Great Britaian.  Asia, Oceania and Europe each receive one extra quota place, based on the FIH world ranking, while another three spots will be decided in qualifying tournaments. If England wins the European championships, Europe will receive an extra place.  Only the winners of each qualifying tournament earn a berth in the 2012 Summer Olympics.  

Great Britain, China, South Korea, Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, United States and Argentina (as Invitees) are all already out there. 3 more spots are open for teams that win the Qualifying tournament.  The FIH - Road to London, happening at Delhi is one such qualifier. 

It is a great moment for the women’s team.  Years ago, Captain Suraj Lata Devi led the team to the Gold for three consecutive years: during the2002 Commonwealth Games (the event which inspired the 2007 Bollywood hit film, Chak De India), the 2003 Afro-Asian Games, and the 2004 Hockey Asia Cup.   In  2008, India lost 2-1 to the United States during the 2008 Women's Field Hockey Olympic Qualifier. The team was thus eliminated from the Beijing Olympics competition.  During the 2008 Women's Field Hockey Olympic Qualifier, the team ranked fourth in the "Qualifying Two" event. Rani Devi received the Most Promising Young Player of the Tournament award.

This year at the Road to London Olympics- the qualifying tourney at Delhi, India was having a dream run until they lost 2-5 to tournament favourites South Africa in their fourth match.  With that defeat, India slipped from the top spot to third with seven points. South Africa led  the table with 10 points while Italy were second on eight.  In the match against South Africa,  Indian captain Asunta Lakra scored in the 23rd minute and Soundarya Yendala in the 52nd minute.     The game looked evenly poised in the first half but South Africa raised their tempo in the second as Indians ran out of steam.

That made it a must-win situation against the game against Italy today.  Thus the  last match of round-robin assumed greater significance as to  which team would join South Africa in the Final on Saturday: Italy just needed a draw to go through, when India needed an absolute  win to take the second spot in the standings.

It was a good match few minutes ago – the  Indians immediately attacked the Italian circle and had their first penalty-corner in the 10th minute. Roberta Lilliu, in the Italian goal stopped the initial shot, and a few subsequent ones in close succession. Italy forced two penalty-corners in a row but could not capitalize either.  At half-time, it was goalless and that gave significant lead to Italians.  In the second half, India threw everything in still could not score. With only 15 minutes go, Ritu Rani scored sending the ball into the goal off  the high rebound from a penalty-corner. The Italian argued the ball was played high in the air, but the goal stood.

The dying moments were tense but Indian girls hung on grisly and as the hooter went, there was joy everywhere.  Indian women would face a greater challenge but now the long-standing draught could end.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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