BHUBANESWAR, November 1: Coach Sjoerd Marijne was on the pitch before the Indian players arrived for warm-up. The confidence in his stride was evident as he recced the turf for all the warm-up paraphernalia in place. An hour later, and after at least a kilometre of pacing in the Indian dugout, he was breathing a lot easier. It was a hand-on-mouth scoreline staring USA in the face at the end of 60 minutes. India had won 5-1, only their fifth win over
USA, and one that has almost shattered America’s Tokyo dreams.
India would have taken a win with any scoreline, but 5-1 in the first game of a two-match Olympic qualifier is like arriving at Tokyo’s check-in counter.
“No, absolutely not,” Marijne swatted any such thoughts. “You know how the process can go. You don’t get a ticket to tokyo today. You can get it tomorrow. You have nothing so far.”
The hosts played two matches in 60 minutes. First one in the opening 15 minutes and the next in the last 45, when the crowd in Kalinga Stadium stands swelled to almost 10,000. The best part was India’s confidence grew with it.
Joining the crowd was India’s men’s team, that had arrived for the match against Russia, which was to follow. With every goal, the smiles on their faces got wider.
After a mediocre first quarter, with the Indian strikers’ passes at the US 25-yard line leaving a lot to be desired, Lilima Minz put the hosts ahead in the 29th minute.
India led 1-0 at half-time.
The goal-fest began 40th minute onwards in the third quarter, beginning with Sharmila Devi’s penalty-corner (PC) conversion and followed by Gurjit Kaur (42nd, PC), Navneet Kaur (46th) and Gurjit again (51st, penalty stroke) to make it 5-0.
USA’s consolation goal arrived in the 53rd minute when Erin Matson scored off a penalty corner, by when the writing was on the wall.
With a tall ask of erasing a four-goal advantage, USA now have their backs to the wall before the second and final match on Saturday.
But it didn’t begin like that for USA. They enjoyed possession in the first 15 minutes and pressed well up front, but just couldn’t finish off their moves.
India did well holding fort at the back and clearing balls from crucial positions inside the striking circle.
“I think in the first 28 minutes, we struggled with nerves. We lost the ball too fast and gave them too many opportunities. Luckily, they didn’t make it (count), otherwise the match would have been different,” Marijne analysed after the match.
Of the seven penalty corners India earned, two were successfully converted, while the Americans couldn’t create anything out of their five.
Lauren Moyer and skipper Kathleen Sharkey had the best of chances to go ahead; but the goal continued to elude them.
“I think in the first half, we possessed the ball very well. Unfortunately, in the second half, there were a lot of turnovers (conceded) and India were able to capitalise on that,” said Sharkey.
The play of the match happened at one of those turnovers, when teenagers Sharmila Devi and Salima Tete combined to set up Navneet on top of the circle.
Receiving the ball from just outside the 25-yard line, Sharmila was quick to find Salima down the line. The counter left the Americans short of numbers in defence, with an unmarked Navneet turning the cross from Salima into a goal. That made it 4-0. (ToI)