India made its first Asian Games final in 20 years, outlasting three-time champions China 1-0 in a fiercely-contested battle at Jakarta on Thursday.
Gurjit Kaur’s strike from a penalty corner in the 52nd minute was the difference between the two sides in a match that lacked the quality of a high-profile semi-final. Nonetheless, India did just about enough to seal their first appearance in the Asian Games final since the 1998 Bangkok Games.
India’s only title at the Asian Games came way back in 1982, a tournament where the nation’s women’s hockey team made its debut. India will now face Japan, who upset five-time champions South Korea 2-0 in the other semi-final.
It was not the most fluent of matches with both India and China failing to create opportunities. “The team surely did not play to its potential in the first half. They stepped up in the second half and I am really happy for these girls. I know how much work they put in to be here. They trained really hard for this event. Japan will be a tough challenge but the team is up for it,” said India coach Sjoerd Marijne.
India earned their first penalty corner in the eighth minute but Gurjit Kaur’s shot was saved. The Indian side endured more frustration as the game progressed, squandering atleast four promising opportunities to take the lead. The closest they came to scoring was in the 13th minute but Navjot, standing at the goalmouth, somehow failed to slot the ball into the net.
Against the run of play, China secured a penalty corner at the start of the second quarter, but Zixia Ou did not get the deflection she was aiming for. Both teams were not fluent in their play but China showed more intent. India’s only big opportunity came in the 29th minute but Monika, following a pass from Gurjit, was unable to intercept.
Neha Goyal was shown a green card during a dull quarter during which China’s Hong Li was also shown a yellow card. India got a penalty corner at the start of the third quarter but drag-flicker Gurjit did not get the desired result.
The umpires thought her shot hit the leg of a Chinese defender and gave India a stroke. The Chinese opted for a review and were successful, much to India’s disappointment. A third penalty corner was awarded to India in the 39th minute but Gurjit could not do much again, flicking it wide.
Two minutes later, another opportunity went begging for India as Gurjit’s shot lacked the power to fly past the Chinese goalkeeper. Reena Khokar then went for a reverse hit at the stroke of third quarter but the rasping shot missed the target.
Otherwise, it was another ordinary 15-minute session with both teams lacking the fluidity in their attacks. In the final quarter, India earned as many as three corners in a jiffy. On their third attempt, Gurjit’s drag-flick found the top of the net, leaving the Chinese no chance.
With eight minutes left on the clock, China tried hard to equalise but the Indian defence, despite being shaky, held on to their lead.
(With inputs from PTI)