It was on expected lines that Ireland eves would be a tough nut to crack for the Indian women in the semifinals of the FIH Nations Cup at Estadio Betero in Valencia. And it needed the goalkeeping brilliance of Indian skipper Savita to ‘get out jail’ and sneak into the final where they lock horns with hosts Spain. 13th ranked Ireland brought their physicality to the fore even as 8th ranked Indian looked to unsettle them with their pace and skill play but it invariably appeared that Indian eves despite putting their best foot forward was finding it hard to dominate Ireland, who adhered to a solid structure.
At the stroke of the first quarter hooter, Naomi Carrol darted down the right and rifled in a bouncy ball from the top of the ‘D’ to put Ireland in front. Irish goalkeeper Elizabeth Murphy was a thorn in the Indian flesh – she repulsed the Indian raids on umpteen occasions and at one stage left all wondering where the Indian goal was to come from! Of course, the Indians eves earned a plethora of penalty corners but Elizabeth Murphy was confidence-personified as she kept blunting Indian set-pices one after another. India in their desperate bid to come back into the contest turned to Udita to take a shortie in the closing stages of the third quarter.
The former forward-turned defender from Haryana unleashed a drag-flick that finally beat the resolute defences of Elizabeth Murphy. There was an extra spring in the strides of the Indian women in the final quarter but goals were hard to come by.
Neha Goyal nearly put India ahead when she orchestrated a ‘smart steal’off Elena Tice and let go a blazing shot that was valiantly saved by Elizabeth Murphy. India surrendered their numerical superiority when Gurjit Kaur served a fine minute suspension (yellow card) for a harsh tackle on an Ireland player – not befittting of an experienced player.
Indian eves struggled in the shootout as well much like their Ireland who could only convert one of their five shots – Lalremsiami and Sonika Tandi saved the way even as much experienced players like Navneet Kaur and Neha Goyal messed up their shootout opportunities. Savita pulled India into the final with four saves but let’s not discount the fact that Ireland nearly turned their tables on India and can be proud of their performance.