The Indian women’s team played their hearts out, but suffered a 1-2 defeat against Argentina in the Tokyo Olympics semifinal on Wednesday. They play Great Britain for the bronze play-off on Friday.
India took the lead in the second minute through a Gurjit Kaur drag-flick, but a brace from opposition captain Maria Noel Barrionuevo had the final say.
There had been a wide gulf in class between the two teams in previous encounters, but to India’s credit, it was a battle of equals on the sport’s biggest stage.
India had a dream start with Gurjit converting a penalty corner after their first foray into the Argentine D. Sjoerd Marijne’s team seemed the better of the two units in the opening 15 minutes, as they were quicker to the ball, more organised in defence and more determined in the tackle.
The Indian Women’s Hockey Team fought till the very last second. 👏
— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) August 4, 2021
Argentina coach Carlos Retegui, animated in normal circumstances, was even more vocal as he shouted constant instructions to his players.
The South Americans seemed rattled by the early setback, but there was visible improvement in the second quarter as they pushed Indians deep inside their own territory. They earned a number of penalty corners and one of them was converted by Barrionuevo in the 18th minute.
As the game moved towards half-time, both teams squandered excellent opportunities. Lalremsiami, unchallenged in front of the Argentine goal, couldn’t trap an excellent pass from Vandana Katariya on the right flank. A penalty corner they got also came to nothing. At the other end, Julieta Jankunas had an air shot when she was in a good position inside the Indian D.
Argentina upped the ante at the start of the third quarter, and started dominating the midfield. Marijne’s wards were desperately defending their citadel. But the second goal seemed almost inevitable as Barrionuevo scored from another penalty corner in the 36th minute, confirmed via an umpire’s referral.
The deficit seemed to prompt a lot more attacking intent from the Indians, as they pushed up and tried to create more chances. But the Argentines held firm.
Captain Rani led by example, orchestrating attacks and running at the South American defenders. The relentless pressure led to a penalty corner with less than 10 minutes and Gurjit’s flick elicited an excellent save from custodian Maria Belen Succi.
But the tide turned again as the Argentines gained ascendancy, forcing India to defend, before slowing down the game and letting the clock run down. Their experience and big-game nous won the day, but the Indian girls should hold their heads high.