Indian women’s hockey team started off their two-match Olympic Qualifier against the United States of America with a commanding 5-1 win at the Kalinga Stadium in Odisha.

Goals from Lilima Menz (28th minute), Sharmila Devi (40’), Gurjit Kaur (42’, 51’) and Navneet Kaur (46’) gave India a win by a margin that looked unlikely after a poor first quarter. The USA got one back in the 53rd minute through Erin Matson but it came too late in the game.

The Indian team was slow to start the game and it was USA that dominated the early proceedings. The visitors moved the ball around better and the hosts did just enough to stay in the game.

The better chances fell to the USA team but they failed to finish well. It was a failing that came back to haunt them as India, against the run of play, went ahead in the 28th minute.

India’s penalty corner, their second, broke down but in the resulting chaos, the ball found its way to Lilima who was open right in front of goal and she made no mistake.

The goal clearly gave the Indian team a huge boost and it showed in the second half.

A different team

In the second half, India turned on the screws in a manner that few expected. This Indian team has made it a habit of showing up in the second half. We saw that in the World Cup as well and they did the same at the Kalinga stadium too.

At times, it almost felt as if a different team had taken the field. Maybe the heat and the humidity got to the USA team but India were moving better, they were aggressive and more importantly, they were moving the ball better too.

Starting with the second goal in the 40th minute, India scored four goals in 11 minutes to completely dismantle the USA challenge. The Americans didn’t know what hit them and by the time they recovered their composure they were 5-0 down.

Sharmila Devi started off the goal glut with India skipper Rani Rampal supplying the pass for the field goal. Two minutes later, Gurjit was on target from the penalty corner. The two goals seemed to knock the stuffing out of USA team.

A lovely run from Salima Tete led to the fourth goal and Navneet Kaur was on hand to finish well. In the 51st minute, Gurjit converted a penalty stroke to put the match well beyond the Americans.

USA got one goal back in the 53rd minute through Erin Matson but it came too late in the day. India’s four-goal blitz had sealed USA’s fate.

India will go into the second qualifier on Saturday with a huge four-goal advantage.