India completed a clean sweep of the Tokyo Olympics test events on Wednesday, winning the men’s and women’s titles, but the focus now will be on whether they can actually book their berth for next year’s Games.
While the women’s team, improving with every tournament, remained undefeated in the four-nation tournament, the men’s team exacted revenge on New Zealand, who had defeated them in the round-robin match earlier this week. In Wednesday’s finals, the Sjoerd Marijne-coached women’s team defeated hosts Japan 2-1 while Graham Reid’s men spanked New Zealand 5-0 following a first-half blitz. However, this win would mean nothing if India fail to qualify for the actual event itself.
The men’s and women’s teams feature in a 14-team pool for the Olympic qualifiers. On September 9, the International Hockey Federation will conduct a draw based on the world rankings to determine the seven qualifying matches two teams playing each other in two back-to-back matches, with the winner sealing their spot for the Games. Both Indian teams are likely to play their games at home due to their rankings.
Marijne and Reid used the test event to test their combinations ahead of the crucial qualifiers. Reid, especially, took a new-look team to Tokyo, giving rest to veteran players like goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and captain Manpreet Singh. In their absence, the team looked a bit shaky when they took on New Zealand, the only team that troubled India in the tournament.
New Zealand had edged out India earlier and in the final, both teams began the match on a cautious note by turning over the possession in the mid-field. India won a penalty corner in the seventh minute, but couldn’t capitalise on the opportunity. However, skipper Harmanpreet didn’t miss out on a re-awarded penalty corner. He executed a perfect dragflick to put India in the lead. The Indian team continued to hold possession and put tremendous pressure on the New Zealand defense as they ended the first quarter at 1-0.
Shamsher scored India’s second goal through a penalty corner in the 18th minute. New Zealand managed to make only two circle entries in the second quarter as the Indian team scored three more goals. Nilakanta found the back of the net in the 22nd minute before Gursahibjit and Mandeep scored in quick succession.
Vivek Prasad intercepted the ball brilliantly to assist a goal for Gursahibjit and Mandeep converted a penalty corner just before the half-time whistle. After an action-packed first half, the intensity dropped from both sides. New Zealand tried to make a few inroads in the third quarter as they took a shot in the 37th minute which went wide of the post. Jarmanpreet Singh saved a penalty corner in the next minute as India and New Zealand played out a goalless quarter but the former held the lead at 5-0.
In the last quarter, India ensured they stayed in the lead and didn’t allow New Zealand to break through their defense throughout the match. India’s attacking approach in the match paid off as they walked off the pitch as winners of the competition.
In the women’s final, Navjot Kaur and Lalremsiami led India to a 2-1 win over Japan. Navjot (11th minute) opened the scoring to put India ahead but the lead was neutralised within a minute as Minami Shimizu (12′) scored for the hosts.
Lalremsiami (33′) struck the winning goal for India. India dominated the first 10 minutes, and finally managed to find the breakthrough when Forward Navjot kept her nerves under pressure and produced a fine finish in front of the goal. However, the next minute saw Japan strike back immediately with a well-crafted field goal which was put into the back of the net by Shimizu to make it 1-1.
Lalremsiami scored the winner in the 33rd minute, latching on to a rebound from Gurjit Singh’s drag-flick that was initially saved by Japanese goalkeeper Megumi Kageyama. With PTI inputs