New Delhi: Indian women began their quest for an Olympic hockey berth on a disappointing note as they were held to a 1-1 draw in their opening match of the qualifiers that began here at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Saturday.
The visitors from Ukraine surprised India in the 26th minute when captain Maryna Vynohradova converted a penalty corner to put her team ahead. The Indians, who failed to make use of three penalty corners, scored the equaliser in the 42nd minute through Soundarya in an otherwise disappointing performance as the team spilled many chances to let Ukraine run away with a point.
The teams began on a lacklustre note, with the game being played at the halfway line for most part other than Vandana Katariya’s reverse-stick attempt that went wide off the post. But the Indian flanks weren’t working as well as coach C Kumar would have liked. The opportunities provided to Ukraine resulted in a penalty corner (PC) for the visitors in the 7th minute, but it was deflected wide by the Indian defence.
India came from behind through Soundarya to salvage a point in their first match of the Olympic hockey qualifiers.
Jasjeet Kaur got a chance in the 15th minute but a Ukraine stick came down in time to deny her a clear shot at the goal. With flanks not working, Indian playmakers started feeding forwards from well before the 25-yard line, but it shut down any chances of creating a penalty corner. The tactic did provide Jasjeet another chance but her deflection couldn’t find the net.
Ukraine’s best chance came in the 25th minute but for India goalkeeper Yogita Bali, who blocked a twin attempt diving to her right. However, the ball rose dangerously on her second save giving Ukraine their second PC and resultantly a 1-0 lead when captain Maryna Vynohradova’s direct hit sounded the board.
Rani Rampal looked good but couldn’t get support from the forwards, who made a hash of it whenever she went past a couple of defenders. Rani herself was the culprit in the last minute of the first half when she scooped over the crossbar, leaving the score 0-1 at the break.
The Indians came out with an attacking plan in the second half, with their raids increasing in number as well as purpose. But Jasjeet once again missed an opportunity to score in the 41st minute when Ukraine goalkeeper Alvina Budonna came up with a reflex save.
India drew level two minutes later with Jasjeet completing a nice assist coming from the right flank before Soundarya dived in the striking circle to put the ball in the net. India dominated from that point on but some shoddy finishing prevented them from taking the lead.
India got two back-to-back PCs in the 51st minute but couldn’t make use of the opportunities. And the hosts almost went ahead in the 55th minute through Anuradha Devi, but her tap into the goal was disallowed by the technical bench even though the umpire had pointed towards the centre line. The bench ruled that the ball had risen dangerously before Anuradha tapped it in.
India survived a scare in the 66th minute when goalkeeper Yogita came to their rescue by diving to her right and blocking a dangerous-looking move by Nataliya Vasyukova. Another PC in the last minute of the match provided India their umpteenth chance to win the match, but a crowded Ukraine defence foiled the chance.
The match ended with another controversy when the umpire seemed to have awarded another PC a second before the full-time hooter but a consultation between umpires Chieko Soma of Japan and Annabell Willox overruled it, which ended the match at 1-1.
In other matches in the women’s section on Saturday, South Africa edged past Poland 2-1, while the Italy vs Canada match ended in a 2-2 draw.