India women’s hockey team qualify for Tokyo Olympics despite defeat to USA
The result meant so much to the players and it was clearly visible on the faces of skipper Rani Rampal and her team. Everyone ran to the ground as Indian players started hugging each other in the middle. The team later took a victory lap around the stadium.
India Women’s team officially confirmed their Olympics 2020 berth despite losing their 2nd qualifying match 4-1 at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Monday. After the hosts handed a drubbing in the first game to the visitors, the second game looked to be a mere formality. But it turned out to be a nervy thriller.
On Saturday, all it took was just 28 minutes to bring things back to level terms. Amanda Magadan scored a brace, while USA skipper Kathleen Sharkey and Alyssa Parker added two more as the visitors took a 4-0 lead by the end of the first half, leaving the 10,000-strong crowd at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar stunned.
India Coach Sjoerd Marijne, who was critical of India’s performance in the first 30 minutes during the 5-1 win on Friday, had warned that things could have been very different if the visitors had found the back of the net. It seemed like Marijne’s words were about to come true. But just like India did in the first game, they came together as a different unit after half time.
No goals were conceded in the third quarter. Skipper Rani Rampal led frot he front in the final quarter to score a goal, making the most of a defensive error from Alyssa Parker. USA pressed hard in the final few minutes of the game, but the hosts kept their nerves and maintained tight lines in defence. India qualified for Tokyo Olympics with 6-5 aggregate score.
The result meant so much to the players was clearly visible on the faces of skipper Rani Rampal and the team. Everyone ran to the ground as Indian players started hugging each other in the middle. The team later took a victory lap around the stadium.
The reaction is hardly surprising - after all it is only the third time the women’s team will be a part of the multi-sport event. It was in 1980 when the team first qualified for the Olympics. The side had finished at a respectable fourth position, but when put things into perspective, there were only six teams competing. The same year, India men’s team led by Vasudevan Baskaran won the gold. For the men’s, the wait for another gold has not yet come to an end. But the women’s team dreams of qualification for Olympics was fulfilled in 2016.
Despite the team led by midfielder Sushila Chanu finishing with a wooden spoon, and registering one draw and four defeats in five games, it was enough to ignite a spark in women’s hockey in the country. There was no way coach Marijne and Rani were going to wait for another 36 years to make it to the Olympics.
And now the tickets to Tokyo is booked, Marijne is eyeing a medal. “It is our dream to win a medal at the Olympics,” he said at the post-match press conference.
“I said to the girls, we want to win an Olympic medal. And the most beautiful colour is gold. This is just another step. It was not an easy step, but we have a big dream. The preparation is not done, it starts tomorrow. We have 10 months. We played good, and now it’s something we have to continue in every match,” he said.
“I am proud of the spirits showed by the team. We did not give up, and I am proud of it. It’s not easy to get back in the match and scoring the goal, and defending it,” he added.
Skipper Rani Rampal further praised the team’s efforts: “When you play hockey for such a long time, you wait for moments like this. It is quite an emotional moment for us. We kept fighting till the last minute, and I am proud of our team.”