Hockey: Rani's late goal seals Tokyo ticket for women

Indian Captain Rani Rampal celebrates with her teammates after scoring a goal against USA during FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers 2019 (Women), at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. (PTI Photo)

Skipper Rani Rampal's 48th-minute strike sealed Tokyo Olympics berth for the Indian women's hockey team as they pipped USA 6-5 on aggregate despite losing 1-4 in the second leg of the FIH Qualifier here on Saturday.

After thrashing USA 5-1 on Friday, it was expected to be a formality for the Indian women but they were given a real scare by the USA women, who raced to a 4-0 lead at the halfway mark.

However, the partisan fans went into raptures when Rani pulled one back to maintain the slender lead till final hooter.

Indian women have now qualified for back-to-back Olympics having sealed it in Rio de Janeiro after a gap of 36 years. The women's team first participated in the Quadrennial extravaganza in 1980 where the men's team last won their gold medal.

On Saturday, Indian women looked a pale shadow of themselves as the US took full advantage of their complacency during the first two quarters.

Amanda Magadan (5th, 28th minutes), skipper Kathleen Sharkey (14th) and Alyssa Parker (20th) scored for the visiting side.

Pushed to the wall after being forced to recover from a four-goal deficit following the 1-5 defeat in the first-leg on Friday, the American girls meant business from the onset as they not only dominated the proceedings in the first quarter but also pumped in two goals to stun the home team.

The Indians played catch-up hockey and found it difficult to counter US's persistent attacks from the onset. It was a completely different scenario from Friday's match as the Indians were found wanting, struggling to get the control of the ball.

 

 

US made a lively start to the contest as they earned two penalty corners minutes into the match but failed to execute the changes on both occasions.

The Americans' positive intent soon bore fruit when they took the lead in the fifth minute through a brilliant penalty corner deflection goal by Amanda Magadan.

Determined to not give up without a fight, USA continued their onslaught and doubled their lead in the 13th minute when US skipper Sharkey pounced on a defensive error and punishing India's failure to clear their lines by firing into the bottom right corner.

US continued in the same vein and tripled their lead five minutes into the second quarter when Alyssa Parker fired high into the nett after receiving a pass from Danielle Grega after the India defence was caught off guard yet again.

Two minutes later, India secured back-to-back penalty corners but wasted both the opportunities.

Moments after India's Navneet Kaur was shown a yellow card, the US created a chance for Amanda Magadan, who made absolutely no mistake, smashing powerfully into the bottom left corner for her second goal of the game to wipe out the four-goal deficit.

The third quarter started on a scrappy note as both the teams struggled to retain possession. After the change of ends, India looked to get their acts together to some extent.

Five minutes into the quarter, India secured a penalty corner but Gurjit Kaur's effort went wide of the post.

After the change of ends, India showed signs of coming back into the game, but US defended in numbers and to keep the hosts at bay as the third quarter ended with the visitors leading 4-0 and the aggregate scoreline standing at 5-5. India secured a penalty corner in the 43rd minute but Gurjit's flick once again failed to trouble USA goalkeeper Kelsey Bing.

Locked at 5-5 on the aggregate scoreline, it took an inspirational strike from Rani in the 48th minute from a loose ball to reduce the margin and hand India the vital lead.

The Americans were awarded a penalty corner four minutes from full time but the decision was overturned after India went for the referral. 

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