India’s hopes of ending their gold drought in women’s hockey went up in smoke at the Asian Games on Friday, with Japan snatching the title with a 2-1 win in the final.
India, champions for the only time way back in 1982, found the Japanese a notch higher in terms of fitness and speed. Defending with determination and finding the goals through two penalty corners in either half, Japan thus claimed the Asian Games gold for the first time and showed they are well and truly gearing up for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
India could have earned an Olympic berth with a gold medal here but still, silver isn’t a bad reward for Sjoerd Marijne’s girls. They were bronze medallists in 2014 and the second place marks progress but the final also showed they have some way to go to be a force at the top level.
Minami Shimizu and Motomi Kawamura were Japan’s goal scorers in the 11th and 44th minutes. In between, India revived their hopes with a goal through Neha Goyal in the 25th but their slowness to seize the chances ruined the good moments they created, especially in the third quarter when they were on the ascendancy.
Japan adopted a high pressing approach, pushing the Indians back from the start. It exposed their defence to counter-attacks but with the Indians lacking in pace, they were unable to cash in. Skipper Rani Rampal, struggling due to shoulder and ankle injuries, and Navneet Kaur did combine to create a penalty corner in the 10th minute but Gurjeet Kaur’s flick was off target.
The Japanese hit back immediately off a counter, earning a penalty corner and Shimizu beat Indian goalkeeper Savita to hoist Japan’s lead. On a day when their defence did a largely solid job to keep the Japanese opportunities to a minimum, it was one of the two blows that laid India low.
The Indians slowly upped their level in the second quarter and brought the scores level. Off a good counter-attack, Navneet Kaur found Neha near the goalmouth from the left and she guided the ball home, beating Japanese goalkeeper Megumi Kageyama.
The goal injected life into the Indian play in the third quarter. Nikki Pradhan and Reena Khokhar set up Vandana Katariya but she hit wide and soon after Gurjeet and Navjot Kaur failed to grab an excellent opening. Japanese then struck the goal that would prove decisive, converting their second penalty corner through Kawamura in a clever variation that fooled Savita.
India pressed hard nearing the end but Vandana again faltered even as the canny Japanese wasted precious time in the final quarter to frustrate their rivals. The gold was their deserved reward while India return with their first silver in 20 years.
China won the bronze medal, defeating South Korea 2-1 in the play-off game.