The Indian women’s hockey team’s attenting-grabbing fourth place finish at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics triggered soaring expectations from their ardent fans. The fans’ expectations were so lofty that they would have settled for nothing other than the girls crowning themselves in glory in the 9th Women’s Asia Cup at Muscat. The general line of thought that if the team can finish among the world’s top four teams at the Olympics, they can put it across Asian counterparts like Japan, South Korea, and China without breaking much sweat or at least, do all it takes to win the tournament.
Unfortunately, the script did not pan out as the Indian eves would have desired. Of course, the Indian eves played like champions when they brushed aside the challenges of Malaysia and Singapore with 9-0 and 9-1 winning margins. But India struggled to assert themselves against Japan and lost 0-2 – against South Korea India without looking overly impressive did managed to take a 1-0 lead going into half-time only to see the Koreans rebound with three goals in the final two quarters – it was a fierce comeback to which India did not quite know how to respond and despite a late solace goal they went down 2-3 to shut their hopes of winning the Asia Cup.
The bronze medal play-off tie against China was an opportunity for India to take a swing at redemption. The Janneke Schopman-coached Indian outfit took a first quarter lead via Sharmila Devi off a penalty corner routine before going to add one more again off a short corner through drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur to seal a morale-lifting 2-0 win over China – interestingly, this was India’s third consecutive win over China in the Asia Cup – at the 2017 Asia Cup, India had pipped China 5-4 in the final in a shootout after both teams were tied 1-1 in normal time – they had defeated the same opponents 4-1 in the league phase.
Stakes are always high in bronze medal matches but this time around this match had an extra dose of importance because both these teams are slated to feature in back-to-back games of the Women’s Pro Hockey League at the same venue on January 31 and February 1.