Both were fighting for pride, to prove a point. But there can be only one winner. The Indian girls, hoping to qualify for Olympics, had their dreams shattered after South Africa beat them 3-1 in the final on Saturday. They must now wait four more years to relive the days of the 1980 Olympics, their sole appearance in the Games via an invitation.
The girls from the Rainbow Nation had already qualified for the London Games when they won gold in the African Women's qualifying tournament last year, but their Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee believed the ride had been too easy. So, they gave up their spot to Argentina and came to the city to prove it wasn't a fluke.
DOING IT TWICE
And they did it with an unbeaten run in the Qualifiers at the National Stadium. "We have to prove it to ourselves. Giving up the berth isn't a detriment because that makes us even hungry to reach London," captain Marsha Marescia had been saying throughout the tournament. The hunger saw them achieve what they had come here for.
Considered India's toughest opponents since day one, the hosts didn't take their opponents lightly. But unfortunately for the CR Kumar-coached girls, their opponents were fitter and bang on target on Saturday.
Shelley Russell scored the opening goal in the fourth minute and wrested away control from the hosts. She managed to steal the ball from Ritu Rani and then beat goalkeeper Yogita to push it home.
Next, Pietie Coetzee showed why she is considered a penalty corner specialist. After missing a penalty corner in the 28th minute, she redeemed herself two minutes later as her low flick found the sweet spot past Yogita.
It was the captain's turn to show her skills in the second half. In the 53rd minute, she put her team 3-0 ahead when she scored off the team's fifth penalty corner, deflecting Coetzee's flick.
The fans who showed up with flags and banners found something to cheer about as India managed to convert a penalty corner in the 57th minute. Jaspreet Kaur's powerful sweep sounded the board, and the stadium erupted with joy.
It's not that India didn't have the opportunities to score. They counter attacked from all fronts after the first goal but unfortunately their finishing fell through. The South African defense refused to allow them a free run.
And even when Indian strikers managed to move inside the D, they failed to convert. The South Africans kept the pressure on India right through the game with consistent coordination. In fact, had their strikers not missed a few chances, the margin of loss would have been greater for the hosts.
On Friday, India captain Asunta Lakra had said they would like to gift-wrap victory to Sushila Chanu on her perfect 20th birthday. Unfortunately, this heartbreak will take a long time to heal.