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A step away from 32 years of lost glory

india Updated: Feb 25, 2012 15:33 IST
Sharmistha Chaudhuri
women's hockey qualifier

As the national anthem resounded through the stadium, the Indian girls had just one aim. A win was all they needed to make the final of the Olympic Qualifiers against South Africa on Saturday. And Ritu Rani provided the breakthrough as India beat Italy 1-0 on Friday.

After wasting five penalty corners, the sixth one was converted by the 20-year-old in the 55th minute to bring a smile on the face of agitated coach CR Kumar. Standing at the goalmouth, Ritu flicked a rebound past Italian goalkeeper Roberta Lilliu, who was named the player of the match.

Must-win scenario
However, nervous moments followed as both umpires took time to decide if Ritu's stick was too high. After deliberations, the decision saw the sparse but patriotic crowd rejoice at the National Stadium.

Members of India's women hockey team celebrate as they defeat Italy 1-0

“We had to win because a draw would have done us no good," said captain Asunta Lakra. Though India began on a slow note, it was the half-time pep talk which worked.

"The coach said we had only 35 minutes and if we wanted to progress from the group stage, we had to win," Asunta exclaimed. Italy, aiming for their first-ever Olympic berth, tried their best to prevent India from scoring.

Starting off with a solid defensive game --- they required a draw to enter the final, they changed tactics after Ritu scored. They even had the same number of penalty corners as India, but were unable to convert any.

On playing the girls from the Rainbow Nation for a London berth, Asunta said, "We'll watch the video to analyse our last game and then plan our tactics." India were humiliated 2-5 in the pool match.

With Sushila Chanu's birthday on Saturday, the girls would like to give the midfielder a day she will cherish all her life. And if things go to plan, the Indian women will earn their second Olympic berth after 32 years.

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