India’s 0-3 defeat against Argentina at the women’s Hockey World league (HWL) Semifinals in Johannesburg on Sunday was a story of two halves – one in which the girls were outplayed to concede three goals, and the second during which the defence woke up while the attack showed some teeth.
India played with the monkey off its back. A place in the quarterfinals was assured, but the Argentina test presented its own difficulties. And playing England in the quarters will be another stiff challenge.
On the scale of progress, the Indian defence, led by goalkeepers Savita and Rajani Etimarpu, has shown decent improvement. But Argentina started like a gush of adrenaline, scoring in the second minute itself through Rocio Sanchez. Maria Granatto provided a cushion in the 14th and Noel Barrionuevo’s 25th-minute penalty-stroke conversion put the game beyond India.
Thirty minutes is a long time in hockey, and India showed a lot of promise in the second half. But weak penalty corner set-up, scoreline pressure and Argentina’s speed on turnovers and in falling back kept Rani Rampal’s team under the pump.
Sjoerd Marijne’s reworked strategy for the second half did some trick, in that India didn’t concede anymore goals. But it was also due to Argentina’s own felony who failed to make use of nine penalty corners. A word of praise, however, must be reserved for goalkeeper Rajani who replaced Savita at half-time. She stood like a wall against a barrage of Argentine attacks and ended with a clean sheet.
Like previously in the tournament, among the attackers it was only Vandana Katariya and Rani Rampal who made some sort of an impression. But Marijne’s worry of losing possession repeatedly led to missed opportunities, the best of which came through Vandana’s deflection in the first quarter and Rani’s shot at goal in the 59th minute.
The defeat pushed India to fourth place in Pool B with four points from a win against Chile and a draw against South Africa. Interestingly, both Chile (20th) and South Africa (13th) are ranked lower than India (12th). This leaves India to play Pool A toppers England. Both of India’s defeats in the pool stage came against higher-ranked teams: 1-4 against USA (6th) and 3-0 against Argentina (3rd).
India’s quarterfinal opponents England, ranked second in the world, won three matches to top Pool B with nine points. Their only defeat came as an upset against Japan 0-1.
In the other three quarterfinals on Tuesday, USA will play Japan, Argentina take on Ireland and hosts South Africa will be up against Germany.
For the record, all teams featuring in the top 10 of FIH rankings – England, Argentina, USA and Germany – are drawn against teams out of top 10; and India will face the top-ranked team in the tournament, England.