Rejuvenated India eye win against Germany to seal Paris Games ticket
Ranchi, Jan 17 (PTI) Just one win away from securing a Paris Olympics berth, a resilient Indian women’s hockey team will need to produce its ‘A’ game against higher-ranked Germany in the semifinals of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers here on Thursday.
The Indians bounced back from a 0-1 loss to USA in their tournament-opener to outclass New Zealand and Italy to seal their semifinal spot as the second-placed team from Pool B.
It was a near-perfect performance in the last two matches with all departments clicking in unison and the Savita Punia-led side would look to continue the same way in the business end of the tournament.
The top three teams from here will qualify for this year’s Olympics and a win on Thursday will guarantee India a ticket to Paris.
In case they fail to do so, the Indians will get another shot in the third-fourth place match against the other losing semi-finalists on Friday.
But the home side needs to approach the match against Germany with a positive mindset.
The best aspect of India’s performance in the last two matches was their backline. The Indian defenders dished out a superlative effort to keep their opponents at bay.
The defence led by skipper Savita and comprising Udita, Monika and Nikki Pradhan didn’t put a foot wrong in the last two matches, clearing any loose balls inside their circle at the first opportunity.
The midfield too has been resourceful. Salima Tete has been phenomenal with her quick running, along with Neha Goyal. The two combined well to create chances for the forwardline.
At the front, Lalremsiami, Sangita Kumari, Beauty Dung Dung and Navneet Kaur have also lived upto the team’s expectations with their fine display.
Penalty corner conversion has been a thorny issue for the Indians but in the last match against Italy, Udita Duhan, playing her 100th international, came as a saviour for India, converting two set pieces with her trademark slap shots.
But Udita alone won’t be enough for India against a strong side like Germany.
“Udita is at par with her skill, which is slap shot and we saw that against Italy. But we need more variation from penalty corners. Deepika is a very good drag-flicker but in most of the PCs we got yesterday she was not in the field. The one time she was there we miss-trapped the push,” coach Janneke Schopman said.
“We also have Neha and Monika who have got good hits.”
The Germans finished on top of Pool A with seven points, similar as second placed Japan, but had a better goal difference.
Going by world rankings, there is hardly anything to separate the two sides as India are placed sixth in the world against Germany’s fifth position.
Since 2006, India have played Germany seven times, winning just two and losing five games. So, the odds are against India going into Thursday’s match.
But in modern day hockey rankings and past results are just numbers as the gulf between teams is very slim and what matters is performance on the day.
“We know Germany well, we have played them in the summer and we have played them in Spain recently. They have some good individual players but if we remain ourselves, we can rip them a little,” Schopman said.
In the other semifinal, USA will take on Japan.