Vandana Katariya’s hat-trick inspired the Indian women’s hockey team to a 4-3 win over South Africa in its final Pool A game and propelled the team into the quarterfinals at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
India's progress to the knockout round was confirmed only after fifth-placed Ireland lost 0-2 to Great Britain and exited the tournament later in the evening.
Rani Rampal's outfit will take on Pool B winner Australia in its first-ever quarterfinals in Olympic history on Tuesday.
India, which finished fourth in its group with two wins and three losses, called the shots in the early phase of play. It had two penalty corners inside the opening two minutes, both via video referrals. The referrals caused lengthy stoppages of play and only a minute and 18 seconds of play were registered in the first 10 minutes.
The stop-start clash finally got underway when Vandana found the back of the goal in the fourth minute. The Indians held most of the possession and did not allow South Africa any circle penetrations in these opening minutes.
AS IT HAPPENED | Tokyo 2020, Women's Hockey highlights: India defeats South Africa to stay alive in Olympics
But the Proteas grabbed the opportunity to equalise in the 15th minute. Tarryn Glasby converted Taryn Mallett's long pass against the run of play.
India went ahead again in the 17th minute when Vandana helped Deep Grace Ekka’s drag-flick into the net, but South Africa struck back with less than 30 seconds left in the second quarter, as captain Erin Hunter got on the scoresheet. The see-saw battle continued and there was no separating the two sides at the half-time whistle.
Sticking to the script, India retook the lead within two minutes of the third quarter. All of India’s goals so far had come in the second minute of each quarter. It was a penalty corner variation that led to the goal as skipper Rani Rampal flicked it goalwards and Neha caressed it past the goalkeeper.
It was deja vu as South Africa scored the equaliser in a third successive quarter. Marizen Marais showed exemplary skill to dodge two Indian defenders and held her composure to slot it past Indian goalkeeper Savita Punia.
The last 15 minutes would prove crucial for India and Sjoerd Marijne’s side took the lead for the fourth and final time as Vandana tapped in Gurjit Kaur’s drag-flick off a penalty corner. Vandana, 29, became the first Indian woman to score a hat-trick at the Olympic Games.
South Africa was awarded a penalty corner in the last minute of play but the Indians, who enjoyed remarkable success with video referrals, got the decision reversed and rounded off the win.