Olympics hockey: Nothing to lose for Indian women in QF against Australia

Tokyo, Aug 1 (IANS) The Indian women’s hockey team meets Australia in the Olympic Games hockey quarterfinals here on Monday and the girls can play without any pressure as they have already made history by entering the knockout stages of the Olympics for the first time.

The team had left Indian shores for Tokyo with the target of reaching the quarters and they managed that by finishing fourth with two wins and three defeats in the six-team Pool A.

The Indian women’s team had spent some anxious hours after they ended their engagements in the preliminary Group A with six points following a 4-3 win over South Africa as they waited for the result of the match between defending champions Great Britain and Ireland.

A victory for Ireland would have ended their hopes as the Irish would have made it to the quarterfinals on better goal difference as both teams would have been level on six points with two wins each.

But that was not to be as Britain defeated Ireland 2-0, paving the way for India’s entry into the quarterfinals.

Their target achieved, Sjoerd Marijne’s team has nothing to lose and they can play with gay abandon. If they manage to put pressure on the Australians early on, then anything can happen in this match.

The Australian women’s team, called Hockeyroos, is ranked second in the world behind the Netherlands. They topped Pool B with an all-win record, seldom getting flustered by any of the teams in their group.

In contrast, India started the event as the ninth-ranked team in the world and suffered defeats in their first three matches — against the Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain.

They had to target wins against Ireland and South Africa in their group and they did just that, beating Ireland 1-0 and South Africa 4-3. The only thing they could have done better was to win both these matches by a bigger margin. They did create many chances against Ireland — 14 penalty corners in all but could not convert even one. They had made several circle penetrations against South Africa but could score only four goals.

With no pressure on them, the team should try some different variations on short corners as Gurjit Kaur and Deep Grace Ekka had been too predictable and the rival goalkeepers have blocked most of their attempts. They tried a variation against South Africa successfully — Neha Goyal had deflected in a hit by skipper Rani Rampal.

Though Vandana Katariya made it to the history books as the first Indian woman player to score a hat-trick in the Olympics, the forward line has not been that successful.

The defence too has been susceptible, which is evident from the 14 goals they have conceded so far.

The team should not get bogged down the superior Hockeyroos and instead play for pride.