FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifier: India eases past Italy, advances to semifinals

India’s 5-1 rout over Italy was enough to put the side in second place in the group and take it through to the semifinals.

Published : Jan 16, 2024 21:14 IST , Ranchi - 3 MINS READ

Udita celebrates after scoring the opening goal.
Udita celebrates after scoring the opening goal. | Photo Credit: Adimazes

Udita celebrates after scoring the opening goal. | Photo Credit: Adimazes

India overwhelmed Italy for a best-ever 5-1 win in its final Pool B match at the Olympic Qualifiers on Tuesday to finish second in its group, qualifying for the semifinals and keeping its hopes of an Olympic ticket alive. Up next will be Germany for a spot in the final.

Needing only a draw after the USA beat New Zealand 1-0 to top with nine points, India started much the same way it did against New Zealand, Salima Tete earning a penalty corner 38 seconds into the game and Udita making no mistake slamming it into the board to get the lead. But Italy tightened its defence to defuse every Indian attack thereafter, stretching the flanks to move ahead.

The last time the two teams faced off with an Olympic ticket on the line was in 2012, also played in India, when the host edged past Italy 1-0. Interestingly, Italy was ranked 19th at that time, the same as now, although the gap has widened with India being 6th to their 13th position then. Matches between the two teams have always been closer than rankings would suggest – the last time they played at the 2018 World Cup, India won 3-0.

READ | India hockey captain Savita Punia: We’re a good team, maybe we expect a bit too much from ourselves

Despite almost equal possession and penetration, the Indians appeared more dominant largely due to their control of the game inside the two circles, both in attack and defence, but were unable to finish their chances. Sangita, Salima, Deepika and Lalremsiami kept pushing in and taking shots but were unable to break the Italian defence. Nikki, Udita and Nisha ensured there was no damage at the back end.

The second half was more of the same before Lalremsiami, running a solo through the middle, was pushed by Maria Aleman in the 41st minute for a penalty stroke, and Deepika doubled the lead. The goal forced Italy to open up its defences and press hard, giving India the space it wanted. Seconds from the end of the third quarter Salima – having worked hard all night – finally got one of her own, squeezing the ball through the narrowest of gaps into the net from the top of the circle. Navneet dribbled past three defenders for a fourth, and Udita added another to round up the tally before Italy pulled one back seconds before time.

Earlier, a shaky New Zealand failed to convert the few chances it got, including four PCs, against a fighting USA to fail to make the cut for the Olympics for the first time since 2000. With both sides tentative early on and the game played between the 23-yard lines, USA had to wait till the 17th minute for Elizabeth Yeager to find a deflection and go ahead, a lead it hung on to till the end. Both teams had a goal cancelled in a scrappy, physical match with cards galore, but veteran Kelsey Bing in the USA goal proved to be the difference.

Pool A played out on more predictable lines with Germany topping the group with a massive 10-0 win against the Czech Republic in its final league match, while Japan finished level on seven points but second on goal difference with a 2-0 victory against Chile to set up a semifinal clash with USA.

The results:

Pool A: Germany 10 (Sonja Zimmerman 3, Jette Fleschutz 2, Charlotte Stapenhorst 2, Pauline Heinz, Nike Lorenz, Selin Oruz) bt Czech Republic 0; Japan 2 (Kana Urata, Miyu Hasegawa) bt Chile 0; Pool B: USA 1 (Elizabeth Yeager) bt New Zealand 0; India 5 (Udita 2, Navneet Kaur, Salima Tete, Deepika) bt Italy 1 (Camila Machin)..

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