India are the champions of the inaugural FIH Hockey Women’s Nations Cup Spain 2022, narrowly defeating hosts in the final in Valencia, Spain on Saturday.
With the win India have now qualified for the FIH Hockey Pro League 2023-’24 season.
Playing in a heavyweight clash against Spain, Gurjit Kaur stepped up early and gave India the lead from a penalty corner in the sixth minute and that would be the only goal to be scored in the match as the defenses for both teams took over.
The quality of the game was extremely high as both teams gave it their all through the 60 minutes and each had excellent attacking opportunities, but were met by even better defensive efforts on both sides. Indian defenders, led by the experienced trio of Savita Punia, Gurjit and Deep Grace Ekka, were terrific, repelling wave after wave of Spanish attacks towards the end of the game. The women in white showed excellent defensive discipline, keeping a clean sheet and conceding just two penalty corners in all of the second half, while facing immense pressure.
Gold Medal Match: Spain vs India 0-1
The two highest ranked teams, and the two form teams of the tournament, Spain and India set-up a mouthwatering clash in the finals, with the title and qualification to the FIH Hockey Pro League 2023-24 up for grabs. India had won all their matches but Spain came into the final without conceding a goal.
Spain started the game on the front foot, as India moved away from their high press, which they employed throughout the tournament, to a midfield press. Spain received a penalty corner in the 5th minute, but Savita used her boots brilliantly to stretch out and kick the attempt away. India counter-attacked right away and won a penalty corner themselves. Gurjit, who’s conversion from PCs had not been the best through the tournament, stepped up and placed a drag flick perfectly between the keeper and the post defender to hand India the lead.
India came close to scoring once again just a minute later as another flick by Gurjit was touched narrowly wide by the Spanish keeper. Spain entered the Indian circle twice in the final minutes of the first half, but India kept their discipline and cleared their lines to take the slender lead to the second half.
A cagey third quarter followed as Spain pressed higher and higher. They finally put the ball in the back of the goal after Savita had saved an initial shot by Ycart, but India reviewed and the goal was overturned as Ycart had not moved the ball 5 meters before entering the Indian circle. India survived all further attempts by Spain to breach their defense in the 3rd quarter, leaving Spain 15 minutes to find a goal.
The fourth quarter was much of the same, as Spain continued to surge forward and overload the Indian circle, but the visitors continued to play brilliant disciplined defense, not letting Spain come close to scoring throughout.
Gurjit Kaur and Deep Grace Ekka were brilliant in defense alongside Udita and Nikki Pradhan, as the clock ran out and India became the champions of the inaugural FIH Hockey Women’s Nations Cup Spain 2022 and qualified for the FIH Hockey Pro League.
Player of the match was awarded to Neha, who was crucial for India in releasing the pressure allowing them to hold the lead for 54 minutes. As she received her award Neha spoke of her team’s brilliant victory and said: “We took an early lead and played really well as a complete unit to protect it and come out as winners.”
Earlier in the day Chile relied on a late 4th quarter surge to blitz South Africa and end their campaign on a high, winning the game 4-1. With the win Chile finished in the 7th position, while South Africa, who had promising moments throughout the tournament, playing with a very young team, finished 8th.
The 7th position match was followed by the 5th place match between Italy and Korea. The two teams had played out a 1-1 draw earlier in the tournament, and when the full time whistle was blown the teams found themselves tied at the same scoreline. The shoot-outs however went the way of the Italians, who had their keeper Lucia Caruso to thank, for stopping 4 out of the 5 Korean shoot-out attempts, giving Italy an impressive 5th-placed finish in the Nations Cup.
The bronze medal match produced great thrills in the second half with Ireland and Japan trading 4 goals in the fourth quarter, after a goalless first half. Japan pushed harder for a winner in the final quarter and found it through captain Yuri Nagai who put in the finishing touches to a brilliantly worked team move, with less than 4 minutes left on the clock. Irish attempts at finding an equalizer were blocked well by the Japanese defense, led by a fantastic all-round display by Yu Asai.
Best Player: Lucia Jimenez (ESP)
Best Junior Player: Sarah Mcauley (IRL)
Best Goalkeeper: Savita Punia (IND)
Top Scorer: Kathryn Mullan (IRL)
Final day results
Result: Match 1
South Africa 1-4 Chile
Player of the Match: Francisca Tala (CHI)
Result: Match 2
Italy 1-1 Korea (SO: 2-1)
Player of the Match: Lucia Caruso (ITA)
Result: Match 3
Japan 3-2 Ireland
Player of the Match: Yu Asai (JPN)
Result: Match 4
Spain 0-1 India
Player of the Match: Neha (IND)