New Delhi: On the first touch of the match, India’s nerves became evident. Instead of a push-back, a scoop was lobbed towards the left flank. It went bouncing out of the sidelines for a free hit to the US. By the end of the match, India’s anxiety to perform had played into the hands of speedy American girls, who outpaced the opposition for a 4-1 win in the Pool B match of women’s Hockey World League (HWL) Semifinals in Johannesburg on Monday.
For a moment, when Lilima Minz made it 1-1 in the third quarter, it looked India had a lot left in the tank to pull off a win. Instead, it was the US girls who went into the top gear and pumped three goals in 11 minutes for their second consecutive win.
While India’s eagerness to improve from the draw against South Africa in their first match was evident, their game lacked teeth on two grounds:
b) a missing dragflicker
Barring the chemistry between strikers Rani Rampal and Vandana Katariya, Indian forwards couldn’t scare the US defence any more than seven shots on goal. And where the Indian team was found out, was in the fitness and speed comparison, especially in the second half when the forwards were easily dispossessed and the defenders succumbed against American velocity.
The US players clearly had much more legs on their turnovers and counters, which put India coach Sjoerd Marijne’s pre-tournament claims to test.
“The girls are fitter, faster and stronger. That’s what we see with all the results and tests we are doing,” he had told The Field. While progress can be seen, it’s still not enough to match the Europeans and the Americans.
The Indian defenders looked rattled as US strikers, led by Jill Witmer who scored two goals, crossed the 25-yard line; however, Monika must consider herself unfortunate when Taylor West’s shot at goal deflected off her stick and crashed into the net.
On penalty corners (PC), none of the teams had anything to write home about. The US converted 1/6 and India 0/3. But what must have gone down in Marijne’s notebook is India missing a quality dragflicker.
Defender Gurjeet Kaur shoulders that responsibility on PCs, but on Monday, India’s three attempts left a lot to be desired. A variation off the first, imperfect stopping on the second and an old-fashioned direct hit on the third are not skills enough to test top international teams.
Where India improved was possession in the opposition half. It read 32% against South Africa but increased to 43% against the Americans. But unless you convert those forays into goals, it remains just a futile statistic.
India’s target is a top-five finish in the tournament, which will ensure them of a place in the 2018 World Cup. On that road, the next game against 20th-ranked Chile is crucial, and a win there will virtually confirm India’s entry into the quarterfinals.