Indian eves edge out Azerbaijan

Indian women met a much improved Azerbaijan side in the second hockey ‘Test’ but managed to eke out a 2-1 victory at Major Dhyan Chand National  stadium here on Monday.

Ritu Rani scored in the 18th minute before Azerbaijan equalised through Gyeonga Kim. Saba Anjum slotted the winner in the 41st minute. The hosts lead the four-match series 2-0. India looked a different team this day. They had five new faces and were cohesive too as they produced crafty moves. However, finishing remained a problem with the hosts, with the Azeris sprucing up their defence.

Indian coach CR Kumar had intended to field the same team for the first two matches to assess the fitness of the players coming back from injuries, but found Soundarya Yendala and Jasjeet Kaur unable to revive themselves overnight. The two were replaced by Ritu and Saba, also returning from a break because of marriage. Sushila Chanu replaced Kiran Devi, Subhadra Pradhan came in for Pinki Devi and Mukta Barla was brought in at the expense of Ponnamma.

While field goals have been a long-standing problem, India struggled to convert penalty corners and scored only once from their eight chances. Ritu put the hosts ahead following a goalmouth melee but Azerbaijan levelled within five minutes after a counter-attack. Taejeong Han did a solo, dribbling her way to the circle before flicking a pass to Kim, who slotted home. The teams were locked 1-1 at half time.

The Indians got several penalty corners in the second half. Their attempt to introduce variations, with drag-flicker Jaspreet Kaur sitting out as she hurt her back before the match, didn’t prove rewarding. Saba, though, turned the seventh opportunity into a goal with deft touch and put India ahead.

India faced another injury worry when Rani hurt her left hand, but it wasn’t a serious injury.
Coach Kumar complimented the Azerbaijan team for its ‘good defensive game’. “Azerbaijan played a good defensive game. They are quick to react and crowd themselves near the goal.

We tried to introduce some variations to break through, but they made it difficult,” he said. “Our players are returning from injury, so they cannot be peaking now. By the qualifier, they should be at their best. But I am happy with their receiving and trapping.”

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