Sjoerd Marijne’s second stint as the coach of the Indian women’s hockey team got off to a strong start as the defending champions hammered Japan 4-1 in the opening game of the 2018 Women’s Asian Champions Trophy match at the Sunrise Stadium in Donghae, Korea.

With the drama surrounding the Indian coaching staff soon after the Commonwealth Games campaign taking centre stage before the team left for the tournament, there was a question mark on the morale of the women’s squad, who otherwise would be clear favourites for this tournament, thanks to their Asian champions status.

But all those fears were allied in the opening match as Navneet Kaur scored a hat-trick and Anupa Barla found the net once for India in a resounding win. Aki Yamada scored a consolation goal for Japan.

Strong start

India began the match with a very high tempo and earned a penalty corner in the second minute but Gurjeet Kaur’s drag flick was not strong enough to beat the Japanese defence.

The Indian midfield, however, continued to dominate possession and it was one intervention at half line that allowed Vandana Kataria to launch a probing run from the centre of the pitch in the 7th minute and Navneet had the simplest job of tapping in a through ball at the goal mouth following a couple of passes on the left.

India continued to pound the opposition citadel through the first two quarters but Japan’s defence stood strong till Vandana and Navneet once again combined well to split them open. The goal-scorer released Vandana at the 25-yard line and she dribbled past one defender before playing the ball back and Navneet made no mistake in slotting the ball in the top left hand corner of the goal in the 25th minute.

The defending champions could have gone 3-0 ahead by Gurjeet’s drag flick in the third minute of the third quarter hit the cross bar and heavy rain immediately thereafter forced the players to go off the ground for some time.

After the restart, Japan showed more promise and earned two quick penalty corners but Indian custodian Savita Punia ensured that both were thwarted rather easily.

Clinical show

India then focused on counter attack and Anupa Barla made no mistake in tapping home a cross from the right. Navneet then put the match beyond the Japanese when she scored her third soon after.

Yamada made the most of the Indian defence taking things easy as she easily beat Punia from a close distance with just two minutes to go for the final hooter but there were no more hiccups for the Indians.

Marijne was obviously happy with the performance of the team and said he wasn’t really expecting such a scoreline before the match. “It was important for us to win the first match. The girls intercepted a lot of balls and created a lot of chances.

“I have been with the women’s team before and they have definitely improved a lot. I didn’t expect to score four goals but (the way we played) we could have scored more goals,” he said during the post-match presentation.