Women's Asia Cup 2017: India beats China, wins gold

India beats China in a pulsating shootout after the teams were deadlocked 1-1 at regulation time.

The Indian women's hockey team with their medals after beating China in the Asia Cup.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Rani Rampal stepped ahead for the shootout, swerved and dodged past Chinese goalkeeper Ye Jiao and slotted the ball in. It was sudden death and India goalkeeper Savita Punia, the saviour of innumerable matches for the team, stepped up once again. Meiyu Liang's shot was saved and, at 8.15 pm at night in Kakamigahara, Japan, Indian women were crowned Asia Cup champions.

It was a victory lot sweeter than the one enjoyed by the Indian men's team as continental champions exactly two weeks ago. The last time the eves became champions of Asia in hockey was in 2004. Not one of those 16 girls from the triumph in Delhi are active any more but the one common factor between the two victories is the presence of an Indian coach in the team dugout.

It's been a long road for the team back to the top of the podium since then. The Indian men's win was expected given the gap between them and the rest of Asia at the moment. The women's win, however, is a much bigger achievement for several reasons.

Goalkeeper Savita Punia received the Woman of the Tournament award.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

India is fourth in Asia and 12th in the world. The highest ranked Asian team is 8th-placed China, whom India beat twice including the final. Japan was overpowered in the semifinals. The wins proved India as the best team in the continent regardless of the rankings. India's last title had come exactly a year ago — November 5, 2016 — against the same opponent, at the Asian Champions Trophy.

The girls were also desperate to prove they went to the World Cup on merit. Having already qualified after other continental results went its way, the team was always intent on going to London 2018 as deserving winner. “We were almost 99 percent certain of qualifying even without the title here but I wanted the girls to win and prove themselves. Earning a spot and being gifted one are completely different feelings,” coach Harendra Singh had declared even before the game, adding he was confident of winning.

ASIA CUP: INDIA'S TRIUMPHANT RUN

Group Stage:

India bt Singapore 10-0.

Def. China 4-1

Def. Malaysia 2-0

Quarterfinal:

India bt Kazakhstan 7-1

Semifinal:

India bt Japan 4-2

FINAL

India bt China 1-1(via shootout)

 

His girls backed him on the field. There were enough names on the score sheet throughout the tournament to prove it was a well-knit unit that remained unbeaten. M.K. Kaushik, under whom India won the Asia Cup last in 2004, agreed. “Earlier it was only Rani scoring. She was even made to take penalty corners. Now everyone is contributing in every department. It shows the way Harendra has motivated this team. When everyone gives their best, the team automatically becomes best,” a beaming Kaushik said.

Asked about the positives from the tournament, Harendra said there were many but underlined two. “Self belief and ability to score. The girls now have a positive mindset that they can score against any one and do not have to remain stuck defending in their shells. Second, they know they have the ability to score at any point in the game. They have realised that the game is never over till the final hooter so if they can concede at the last moment, they can score also,” he said after the final, before being pulled away by a bunch of screaming girls for celebrations — all too young to remember the previous victory but old enough to know the magnitude of their achievement on Sunday.

It wasn't a cakewalk, though, despite the 4-1 win in the league stages. India went ahead through Navjot Kaur in the 25th minute and defended the slender lead till Tiantian Luo converted China's 4th penalty corner after referral to level scores. It remained tied even after the shootout, both sides scored four each and missing one. Then, Rani and Savita happened.

In the bronze-medal playoff, Hyejeong Shin scored in the very first minute and Korea then defended the next 59 to win 1-0 against defending champion Japan.

Result (final): India 1 (Navjot Kaur) bt China 1 (Tiantian Luo) in shootouts; 3-4 place: Korea 1 (Hyejeong Shin) bt Japan 0.