Striker Vandana Katariya scored a historic hat-trick to keep alive the Indian women’s hockey team’s quarterfinals hopes in the Olympics with a fighting 4-3 victory over lower-ranked South Africa in its must-win final group match in Tokyo on Saturday.
Vandana (4th, 17th, 49th minutes) achieved a rare feat by becoming the first Indian woman hockey player to score a hat-trick in the history of the Olympics.
Young Neha Goyal (32nd) was the other goal getter as the Rani Rampal-led side registered its second consecutive win at the Games.
South Africa’s goals came from the sticks of Tarryn Glasby (15th), skipper Erin Hunter (30th) and Marizen Marais (39th).
With two wins from their final two pool matches, India have finished the group stages with six points from five games.
By virtue of this win, India have jumped to the fourth position in Pool A, but Ireland still have a chance to leapfrog the Indians.
India’s fate now depends on the outcome of the last Pool A match between Great Britain and Ireland.
The Indians will have to wait till the evening to know their fate. A Ireland loss or a draw will be enough for India to seal their place in the quarterfinals.
The top four teams from each pool will qualify for the knockout round.
Needing a win to stay alive in the competition, the Indians meant business and pressed hard on the South African defence from the start.
In doing so, India secured two penalty corners in the first two minutes of the match but dragflicker Gurjit Kaur’s poor execution continued in the tournament.
Still it didn’t take India long to open their account and in the fourth minute, Vandana gave her side the lead, tapping in from close range after being set up by Navneet Kaur’s great run from the right flank.
India kept up the pressure and penetrated the South African circle many times without much success.
But seconds from the end of first quarter, a lapse in concentration from the defence cost India dearly as South Africa drew level through Tarryn Glasby, who deflected in a long shot from Taryn Mallett.
India had enough time to regain their lead through a penalty corner but wasted the opportunity.
Two minutes into the second quarter, Vandana restored India’s lead when he deflected in Deep Grace Ekka’s flick from their fourth penalty corner.
The Indians had three more chances to extend their lead in the second quarter but they couldn’t do so.
The Rani Rampal-led side got two more penalty corners which they wasted, and then, Neha Goyal’s effort from open play was saved by the South Africa goalkeeper.
Just like in the first quarter, India gave away their lead seconds away from half time when Hunter found the net from her team’s first penalty corner.
Two minutes after the change of ends, Neha restored the lead again, deflecting in a Rani hit from a penalty corner as the Indians executed a fine variation.
The fragile Indian defence wilted under pressure once again, when South Africa drew level for the third time in the match, through a Marais strike.
South Africa enjoyed a good run of play in the initial minutes of final quarter and, in the process, secured three penalty corners quickly, but this time the Indian defence did enough to thwart the dangers.
In the 49th minute, a brilliant Vandana saved the day for India when she deflected in Gurjit Kaur’s flick from another penalty corner.
Thereafter, the Indians fell back and looked contend to keep the possession as South Africa pressed hard.
Two minutes from the final hooter, the Indians successfully referred a penalty corner decision given against them.
Inputs from PTI