Goalkeeper Savita was the shootout star as India edged past China to the women’s Asia Cup title, thereby securing a spot in in next year’s hockey World Cup. Savita produced a brilliant save in the shootout as India became continental champions after a gap of 13 years. After the teams were locked 1-1 in regulation time, skipper Rani Rampal converted the final attempt for the Indians to ensure a 5-4 win at Kakamigahara Kawasaki Stadium in Japan.
India did not qualify for the last World Cup in the Netherlands and finished ninth in the 2010 edition in Argentina.
Chief coach Harendra Singh tasted success in the first tournament since taking over from Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, who moved on to handle the national men’s team.
Rani was on target twice while Monica, Lilima Minz and Navjot Kaur also found the target in the shootout.
Navjot had given Indian the lead in the 25th minute while China equalised through a penalty corner conversion by Tiantian Luo in the 47th minute.
India had last won the women’s Asia Cup in 2004, beating Japan 1-0.
Apart from her exploits in the shootout, Savita produced several saves in regulation time and was adjudged the Goalkeeper of the Tournament.
Both teams played an attacking game, but the first quarter ended goalless.
Navjot almost scored a field goal in the 17th minute but her diving effort was blocked, even as Rani went for a deflection.
India broke the deadlock when Navneet Kaur and Rani played a neat 1-2 before penetrating the circle, allowing Navjot to score from a clear shot. China went all out in search of the equaliser but the Indian defence held firm.
India tried to get the second goal in the third quarter, which remained elusive.
The final quarter was a tense affair. China won a penalty corner after a successful video referral, and Tiantian Luo found the bottom right corner of the post to level matters.
Both teams went for a winner in the closing stages of regulation time, creating chances which were to no avail.
It went to a tense shootout where the Indian girls held their nerve better. Now the team is keen to take the next step and compete on a level footing with the best teams in the world.
“We are all extremely happy that we won the Asia Cup and have earned qualification for next year’s World Cup on merit,” said Rani.
“We had a lot of young players in the team who showed great spirit in playing on such a big platform. The team gave a good fight to China. It was a high level competition and we did not drop our level at any point in the game.”
The victory is sure to act as a big morale-booster for the team ahead of the big events lined up in the next few months.
“Hopefully we will carry this confidence and motivation into the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games,” the forward from Shahbad in Haryana said.
India had finished eighth among 10 teams at the Hockey World League Semifinals in July, Rani said the team found the result unacceptable.
“We were not happy with our performance in Johannesburg at the World League Semi-Finals and right then the team had decided that we need to start winning in order to gain that confidence to perform well in top tournaments,” the skipper said.
Harendra seems to have toughened the girls mentally, and they have also worked on the physical and tactical aspects of the game. Making optimum use of penalty corners seems to be a big focus for the group.
“We worked a lot on creating penalty corners and Gurjit worked hard on converting them during our camps. We were also well prepared for a shootout situation as we were anticipating the knockouts to end in shootouts. All the preparation helped us today,” Rani added.