Bhubaneswar: Skipper Rani Rampal’s 48th minute strike sealed Tokyo Olympics berth for the Indian women’s hockey team as they pipped USA 6-5 on aggregate despite losing 1-4 in the second leg of the FIH Qualifier here on Saturday.
Later in the day, the Indian men’s team crushed Russia 7-1 in the second leg and booked their spot at Tokyo 2020 with an emphatic 11-3 aggregate win.
After both the teams missed their opportunities at the Asian Games 2018, the women settled for silver while the men bagging the bronze, both the Indian teams grabbed their second chance by the scruff of the neck to seal India’s hockey representation at next year’s Summer Olympic Games.
The hockey event at the Olympic Games will take place from July 25 to August 7 in Tokyo.
RANI RAMPAL SHOOTS INDIA TO OLYMPICS
After thrashing USA 5-1 on Friday, it was expected to be a formality for the Indian women but they were given a real scare by the USA women, who raced to a 4-0 lead at the halfway mark.
However the partisan fans went into raptures when Rani pulled one back to maintain the slender lead till final hooter.
Indian women have now qualified for back-to-back Olympics having sealed it in Rio de Janeiro after a gap of 36 years. The women’s team first participated in the Quadrennial extavaganza in 1980 where the men’s team last won their gold medal.
On Saturday, Indian women looked a pale shadow of themselves as USA took full advantage of their complacency during the first two quarters.
Amanda Magadan (5th, 28th minutes), skipper Kathleen Sharkey (14th) and Alyssa Parker (20th) scored for the visiting side.
Pushed to the wall after being forced to recover from a four goal deficit following the 1-5 defeat in the first-leg on Friday, the American girls meant business from the onset as they not only dominated the proceedings in the first quarter, but also pumped in two goals to stun the home team.
The Indians played catch-up hockey and found it difficult to counter USA’s persistent attacks from the onset. It was a completely different scenario from Friday’s match as the Indians were found wanting, struggling to get the control of the ball.
USA made a lively start to the contest as they earned two penalty corners minutes into the match but failed to execute the chances on both occasions.
The Americans’ positive intent soon bore fruit when they took the lead in the fifth minute through a brilliant penalty corner deflection goal by Amanda Magadan.
Determined to not give up without a fight, USA continued their onslaught and doubled their lead in the 13th minute when US skipper Sharkey pounced on a defensive error and punishing India’s failure to clear their lines by firing into the bottom right corner.
USA continued in the same vein and tripled their lead five minutes into the second quarter when Alyssa Parker fired high into the net after receiving a pass from Danielle Grega after the India defence was caught off guard yet again.
Two minutes later, India secured back-to-back penalty corners but wasted both the opportunities.
Moments after India’s Navneet Kaur was shown a yellow card, USA created a chance for Amanda Magadan, who made absolutely no mistake, smashing powerfully into the bottom left corner for her second goal of the game to wipe out the four goal deficit.
The third quarter started on a scrappy note as both the teams struggled to retain possession. After the change of ends, India looked to get their acts together to some extent.
Five minutes into the quarter, India secured a penalty corner but Gurjit Kaur’s effort went wide of the post.
After the change of ends, India showed signs of coming back into game, but USA defended in numbers and to keep the hosts at bay as the third quarter ended with the visitors leading 4-0 and the aggregate scoreline standing at 5-5.
India secured a penalty corner in the 43rd minute but Gurjit’s flick once again failed to trouble USA goalkeeper Kelsey Bing.
Locked at 5-5 on aggregate scoreline, it took an inspirational strike from Rani in the 48th minute from a loose ball to reduce the margin and hand India the vital lead.
The Americans were awarded a penalty corner four minutes from full time but the decision was overturned after India went for the referral.
INDIA’S MAULING OF RUSSIA SEALS TOKYO PLACE
The Indian men, ranked fifth in the world, had earlier defeated world number 22 Russia 4-2 in the first-leg on Friday.
HdhjdjdbdjdndndnddnkekskakbekayiehdjehenensbdndbebebeebYeaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!…We can’t keep calm coz we’re coming to Tokyo!#IndiaKaGame #RoadToTokyo #Tokyo2020 #KalingaKalling #GiftOfHockey pic.twitter.com/H2Yvps6jIX
On Saturday, Akashdeep Singh (23rd and 29th minutes) and Rupinder Pal Singh (48th, 59th) scored a brace each, while Lalit Upadhyay (17th), Nilkanta Sharma (47th) and Amit Rohidas (60th) struck after Russia took an early lead in the opening minute through Alexey Sobolevskiy.
The Russians stunned India 25 seconds into the game when Sobolevskiy opened the scoring to reduce the goal difference to just one.
The Indians were slow to get off the blocks and it took seven minutes for the hosts to get their first scoring opportunity in the form of a penalty corner, but it was wasted.
After a sedate start, the Indians intensified the pressure on Russia’s goal but were unable to create clear chances. Russia, on the other hand, looked dangerous on counter-attacks as the hosts trailed by a goal in the opening quarter.
India equalised in the 21st minute through a field strike by Lalit Upadhyay, who deflected in a Hardik Singh shot.
The Indians upped their ante and took the lead in the 23rd minute when Akashdeep scored following a penalty corner.
There was no stopping India after that as they kept up the pressure on the Russian defence and mounted quite a few attacks.
Graham Reid’s men extended their lead just a minute from half time when Akashdeep scored his second goal of the game through individual brilliance.
India went into the halfway break with a comfortable 7-3 lead over Russia on aggregate, courtesy three strikes in the second quarter.
Five minutes after the change of ends, Alexander Skiperskiy narrowly missed the target after a beautiful team work by the Russians.
In the 44th minute, Ramandeep Singh missed a big opportunity to increase India’s lead as his attempt went wide.
There was no stopping the Indians after the initial hiccup as they added four more goals in the final quarter to add to Russia’s agony.
Nilakanta scored with a powerful shot into the top left angle of the goal in the 47th minute before Rupinder converted a penalty corner in the very next minute.
The berth more or less secured, India pumped in two more goals in the final two minutes of the game through penalty corner conversions by Rupinder and Rohidas.
(With PTI inputs)
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