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India scrape past China in women’s hockey Pro League

India scrape past China in women's hockey Pro League

The Savita Punia-led team could not repeat their earlier thrashing of China in the league, as the midfield failed to make an impact on the pitch.

After thrashing China 7-1 in their Women’s FIH Pro League debut, India chief coach Janneke Schopman was perhaps expecting a similar show by the Indian hockey team on Tuesday. But the Savita Punia-led outfit barely managed to scrape past the 14th ranked China 2-1, courtesy of a brace from Player of the Year, drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur.

Having gotten an opportunity to play top-tier hockey after Australia and New Zealand pulled out last year due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions, the nine-team tournament provides a brilliant opportunity for India to try out their bench strength, get game time and much needed exposure against high quality opposition, something which the team has lacked the last two years in the pandemic-hit world. This is significant especially ahead of the World Cup in July, to be held in Spain and Netherlands.

While Monday’s game was all about domination at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Muscat—with six Indians getting their names on the scoresheet, Tuesday was all about wasted chances.

Clearly the better team on pitch, India had 53% of possession, created 33 circle penetrations to China’s seven, seven penalty corners to China’s none but could attempt only six shots on goal, converting merely two. India’s game dwelled more on long balls rather than push-pass-play, as the defence kept bypassing the midfield to the front. It did the job against a team like China, but it’s an unworkable strategy against higher ranked teams ahead in the competition.

“Currently we are working on defining our style of play as the Indian women’s team,” Schopman had said last month. “That means a lot of movement on and off the ball and people joining in attack as we want to play fast and attacking hockey. We want to make use of our skills and speed to good effect.”

Schopman’s vision wasn’t being achieved on the turf.

World No.9 India opened the gates when Gurjit put India on the board in the third minute in the contest’s first penalty corner. At that point it looked as if the second game against China would be a repeat of Monday. India kept pressing, creating many chances but wasted them by hitting wide or being blocked by the Chinese defence.

Timid at the start, the Wanli Tang-led team became more clinical and increased their possession in the second quarter and came out all-attack in the third, resulting in the leveller from Shumin Wang (39th), stunning India.

In desperate need of the winner, India amped it up, pressing hard and the midfield too came alive in the second half, which eventually gave India a flurry of penalty corners in the last quarter. Deep Grace Ekka flicked wide a couple of times but Gurjit was on the mark yet again to put India back in the lead in the 49th.

India maintained possession in the last few minutes, wasting time until the final hooter. This was India’s third successive victory against China after beating them 2-0 in the bronze medal playoff at the Asia Cup last week.

Even though it’s early days, the two successive wins have put India atop the Pro League standings with six points. The team will face their real test when they take on the winners of the previous two editions, world No.1 and reigning world and Olympic champion Netherlands in Bhubaneswar on February 19 and 20.

The games will be followed by matches against world No.6 Spain at the same venue on February 26 and 27.

Source : hindustantimes

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