The Indian women's hockey team kept their dreams of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio alive by beating lower-ranked Italy in a penalty shoot-out in a classification match of the women's Hockey World League semi-finals at the KHC Dragons Stadium on Thursday.
The Indian hockey eves, ranked 13 in the world, prevailed 5-4 over world No 16 Italy in the shoot-out of the first play-off match for the fifth to eighth positions, after both the teams were locked at 1-1 at the end of the regulation 60 minutes.
India failed to capitalise on numerous opportunities during the regulation time. The ensuing shoot-out also failed to break the deadlock as both the teams scored four times each from their five shots and the contest went to sudden-death.
Taking the first try in sudden-death, Rani Rampal shot on target before goalkeeper Savita brought off a fine save against Giuliana Ruggieri to spark celebrations in the Indian camp.
Rani Rampal had earlier scored the equaliser for India in the 33rd minute after Italy opened the scoring against the run of play in the ninth minute of the contest.
In the shoot-out, experienced striker Vandana Katariya muffed her attempt while Navjot Kaur, Anuradha Thokchom, Rani Rampal and Deepika scored for India. For Italy, Valentina Braconi, Marcela Casale, Guiliana Ruggieri and Chiara Tiddi shot on target but Dalila Mirabella was denied by the Indian custodian.
The victory takes India into the play-off for the fifth and sixth spot on Saturday, where they will face the winner of the another classification contest between hosts Belgium and Japan.
Three Olympic spots are on offer in this tournament, but even some teams not advancing to the semifinals are likely to qualify as five continental champions might have already books a ticket to Rio de Janeiro.
India's only previous appearance in the women's hockey tournament of the Olympics was in 1980.
India were the dominant side from the beginning against Italy, but failed to make it count. Repeated circle penetrations were of no use as the strikers could not produce a goal-bearing shot in the often crowded circle.