India take the tough route to final

Ritu nets lone goal as hosts edge past Italy to set up clash with S Africa

It was not the kind of performance to enter the folklore of memorable sport victories.

Joy unbound: Indian players celebrate Ritu Rani’s goal against Italy in the Olympic Qualifiers in New Delhi on Friday. AP

Yet, the Indian women, with their 1-0 victory against Italy, are knocking at the doors of history. The hard-earned win in the Olympic Qualifiers on Friday has put them in the final against the irrepressible South Africans and on the threshold of the Olympic corridors.

The opportunity is up for grabs for the first time since 1980, though their performance would have to be streets better than on this day.

“I hope the victory will boost the confidence of the girls. We are in the finals and must eliminate our previous mistakes against the South Africans,” India coach CR Kumar said.

For the Italians, at eight points, a draw would have sufficed but for the Indians, at seven points, a win was the only outcome to keep them in the reckoning.

The start, however, dimmed hopes of progress. The Indians’ passing was wayward, trapping forever flimsy and attacks mostly one-flanked. Quite a few chances went abegging as the Indian strikers failed to find a way past a crowded Italian defence, who were quick to clear. The defensive approach of the Italians made it difficult for the Indian girls to enter the circle and looking for penalty corners appeared a better alternative. They however, wasted four of them in the barren first half.

“We were under more pressure. Italy was playing for a draw and were defensive. For us, trapping is a bit of a concern but we made some good penetrations,” Kumar said.
The Italians, the only unbeaten side apart from South Africa, were clear in their approach and in the second half tried to close the gap for the Indians. As the clock ticked away, the possibilities shrunk and a roaring crowd was slowly lulled into silence.

In a surprise foray, India were awarded a penalty corner, their sixth. Jaspreet Kaur took a direct hit, goalkeeper Roberta  Lillliu made a fine save but Ritu Rani, standing nearing the goalmouth, tapped in the rebound with a reverse flick.

The Indians broke into celebrations. The Italians protested, claiming it to be dangerous play and a few minutes of suspense followed. The goal stayed and the Italians went into a frenzy. Desperate attempts for an equaliser resulted in three penalty corners for Italy in the remaining twenty minutes. They, however, could convert none.

The hooter signalled an end to a trying and exhausting 70-minute battle, only for a new one to begin against the South Africans on Saturday.

Results: India: 1 (Ritu Rani 55th minute) bt Italy 0; Ukraine: 1 (Olena Ivakhnenko 28th) bt Poland 0; South Africa: 4 (Sulette Damonns 23rd minute, Dirkie Chamberlain, 41st, 60th, 62nd) bt Canada: 1 (Thea Culley, 16th).

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