RIO DE JANEIRO (7 August, 2016): Asian flag bearers China, Japan and India weathered the storm but neighbors Korea withered under intense pressure in their opening matches of the Rio Olympics women’s hockey event at the Deodoro Olympic Park on Sunday.
The Chinese, ranked at World No 6 and the highest ranked Asian team in Rio, held Germany to a 1-1 draw in Group A while India, returning to the Olympics after an absence of 36 years, rallied back from two goals down to hold Japan to a draw in a Group B encounter.
Lisa Altenburg gave the Germans the lead by the third minute but the Chinese, silver medallist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, levelled through Peng Yang three minutes before the end of the second quarter.
The Koreans, however, could not sustain the pressure against New Zealand and succumbed to a 4-1 defeat leaving the Black Sticks with a much better chance of advancing to the quarterfinals from Group A with this emphatic victory unless Korea rises from this setback in the remaining matches.
It was India’s remarkable performance against the Japanese that won them the accolades. Ranked 13th in the world, Neil Hawgood’s India certainly did not stand much of a chance against the ninth-ranked Japanese and this was clearly evident after falling behind by two goals through Emi Nishikori (15th minute) and Mie Nakashima (28th).
But the Indians made a good with a grand comeback as Rani Rampal set the pace with a 31st minute penalty corner goal and Lilima Minz equalising in the 40th minute by striking a shoulder-length rising shot into goal.
They had equal share of ball possession but lost it just towards the end of the first quarter which gave the Japanese all the room to create chances and score. Japan broke the silence through a beautiful dummy goal from Emi and made it 2-0 two minutes from half time from a breakthrough from Mie who deflected the ball into goal after pouncing on a cross from the left which India captain Sushila Chanu failed to hold back.
However, much of India’s success against the Japanese, whom they had beaten in a classification match in June last year to finish fifth in the World League semi-finals and qualify for the Olympics, for the first time after Moscow 1980, was attributed to goalkeeper Savita Punia.
She made a brilliant diving save in the final minutes of the third quarter to deny Yuri Nagai and kept India alive in the match. India came out with aggressive intent in the final quarter and created numerous chances but failed to convert them into goals.
But there were anxious moments too for India when Japan pressed hard for the winner but the ever-reliable Savita was just everywhere denying the Japanese of a late comeback.
The Indians will play Great Britain in their next pool match on Tuesday. Great Britain had mixed fortunes in Saturday’s opening day of the Olympics hockey matches by defeating World champions Australia 2-1 after their male counterparts lost 4-1 to Belgium.
In the men’s Group A competition, world champions Australia suffered a second blow in two days, going down 0-1 to Spain after suffering a 2-1 defeat in the hands of Great Britain in Saturday’s opening matches while Belgium humbled hosts Brazil 12-0 and Great Britain held New Zealand to a 2-2 draw. In Group B, two-time gold medallist the Netherlands continued its winning ways with a 5-0 demolition of Ireland.
A goal from Alex Casasayas put Spain one up in the first quarter. The Kookaburras had multiple shot opportunities off of penalty corners, but they could not convert on anything in the first half of play and the Spaniards held on to a one-goal lead all through the third quarter where neither team was able to execute on the offensive.
Belgium completed the biggest rout of the tournament so far with 10 different players putting their names on the score sheet. Tanguy Cosyns and Arthur van Doren scored a brace in the win. The Belgians had full control beginning early on in the game as Florent van Aubel got the scoring act started with a 12th minute goal and their never looked back.
Great Britain came out with great energy and established an early 1-0 lead. David Condon scrambled in a congested mass of players to force the ball past the goalkeeper.
New Zealand answered with a beautiful goal from Kane Russell, who controlled an aerial pass and smashed it into the net from the opposite side of the circle. The Black Sticks would then pull ahead by one. After a series of one-touch passes, Hayden Phillips put New Zealand up 2-1.
Before the second quarter could close, Great Britain tied it up with a tip-in goal from Barry Middleton. Both teams battled through a scoreless third quarter and played the tight game down to the wire, which resulted in the draw.
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