Tokyo: Indian women’s hockey team qualified for the Olympic quarterfinals after 41 years after it beat South Africa 4-3 and later defending champions Great Britain blanked Ireland 2-0 to ensure its passage into the knockout stage, here on Saturday.
India finished their group A league proceedings in fourth place with six points, riding on back-to-back wins over Ireland and South Africa and will now face pool B toppers Australia in the quarterfinal on Monday.
The top four teams from each pool made it to the knockout stage. Indian women team’s best finish at the Olympics was in Moscow back in 1980 when they reached the semifinals but ended fourth. While Great Britain’s win was required, no one can take away credit from Vandana Kataria, who scored a hat-trick in India’s win in a pulsating morning clash against the South Africans.
Kataria (4th, 17th, 49th minutes) achieved a rare feat by becoming the first Indian woman hockey player to score a hat-trick in the Olympics. Young Neha Goyal (32nd) was the other goal getter. South Africa’s goals came from the sticks of Tarryn Glasby (15th), skipper Erin Hunter (30th) and Marizen Marais (39th).
“Today’s game was really tough, South Africa gave us a really good fight. They converted their chances in the circle. Defensively, we can be a lot better,” skipper Rani said. India’s chief coach Sjoerd Marijne heaved a sigh of relief but was not happy with the number of goals his side conceded.
Needing a win to stay alive in the competition, the Indians meant business and pressed hard on the South African defence from the start. In doing so, India secured two penalty corners in the first two minutes of the match but drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur’s poor execution continued in the tournament.
Still, it didn’t take India long to open their account and in the fourth minute, Kataria gave her side the lead, tapping in from close range after being set up by Navneet Kaur’s great run from the right flank.
India kept up the pressure and penetrated the South African circle many times without much success. But seconds from the end of first quarter, a lapse in concentration from the defence cost India dearly as South Africa drew level through Tarryn Glasby, who deflected in a long shot from Taryn Mallett.
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