India women’s hockey team beats Japan 3-1 to clinch FIH Series Finals

The Indian women eked out a hard fought win over Japan in a match which saw both defences on top.

India women's hockey team beat Japan 3-1 in the final of the FIH Series finals in Hiroshima.   -  Twitter

Drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur, who has been on a song, struck twice after skipper Rani Rampal provided the lead as India outplayed Japan 3-1 to clinch the FIH Women’s Series Finals, at Hiroshima, Japan on Sunday.

Leading from the front, captain Rani found the net as early as third minute but Japan’s Kanon Mori equalised in the 11th minute.

Gurjit scored in the 45th and 60th minutes to lead India to an emphatic victory. The world number nine Indian team had already qualified for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers 2019 on Saturday after securing a place in the final of the competition.

Rani was adjudged the best player of the tournament while Gurjit emerged the top-scorer.

The Indian skipper struck the ball sweetly along the ground, beating Japanese goalkeeper Akio Tanaka on her right side to give India a 1-0 advantage.

India’s dominance saw it win its second penalty corner in the ninth minute, but the team gave a foul away in the execution. Japan was unable to create opportunities initially, but scored with its second circle entry of the match in the 11th minute.

It was Sakurako Omoto who picked up the ball at the 25-yard line, and played in a pass on the right flank to Yuri Nagai on the baseline, who then played a pass across goal which was successfully deflected into the net by Kanon Mori.

India 3-1 Japan: As it happened

The second quarter also saw India maintain possession which saw forward Vandana Katariya miss a good opportunity in the 18th minute as she picked up a loose clearance from just outside the striking circle, and ran into it to take a strike, but her shot went just wide of the post across goal.

Japan, on the other hand, also started to get into rhythm, and tried to create chances by using the flanks, but India’s defensive cohesion made sure that it did not concede again.

The likes of Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam and Lilima Minz stepped up to help break Japanese attacks, and rotated the ball comfortably to create opportunities for India. However, a better performance by the Japanese defense in the final few minutes of the second quarter meant that both the teams went into the half-time break level at 1-1.

India stepped up its attacking flair again in the opening minutes of the third quarter winning two penalty corners but could not convert. Both the teams tried to look to take the important lead, with Japan making two circle entries and getting two shots away, while India made 8 entries and took 5 shots.

In the 45th minute, dragflicker Gurjit was India’s saviour yet again as she dispatched the ball into the top left corner of the Japanese goal to give her side a 2-1 lead.

With just five minutes remaining in the match, Japan decided to take off its goalkeeper for an extra outfield player in search of an equaliser. However, it worked against the host in the last minute of the match as Gurjit scored her second goal of the match through a penalty corner to make it 3-1 and wrap up the victory for India.

India sealed the maximum ranking points from the tournament with Sunday's victory. Japan, already secured a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by winning the Asian Games 2018, will not play the Olympic Qualifiers, opening up a place for another top-ranked in the tournament. The updated FIH world rankings at the end of September will decide the hosts of the two-legged Olympic Qualifiers.