Never before in the earlier editions of the Junior Women’s Hockey World Cup, India were probably talked about as one of the serious contenders. But in the 9th edition, the Indian junior eves are talked about as a team that have the ammuntion to sit atop the podium. The Blueskirts are packed with three young Olympians and a bunch of talented girls. And on Saturday, the Salima Tete-captained Indian side brushed aside the challenge of Wales, coasting home to a facile 5-1 win in their tournament opener at Potchefstorm.
Nobody was left in doubt who dominated the proceedings. India bossed over the Wales defence and create several scoring opporunities and could have won by a much bigger margin, had not for some doughty goalkeeper by Wales’ Ffion Horrell – she surely saved Wales from being inflicted a morale-pounding double-digit scoreline defeat. Playing under persistent drizzle and damp conditions, Jharkhand lass Sangita Kumar helped India wrest the early initiative, taking a stinging shot inside the Welsh circle that was deflected home by Olympian Lalremsiami as early as 4th minute of play.
Wales responded with purpose and showed better control of the midfield in the second quarter and they were soon rewarded when Jessica Hill orchestrated a fine baseline move from the left and relayed to Millie Holme, who slotted home as the both teams went into half-time deadlocked. India applied high-press in the second half and the Welsh defence was found wanting. Everytime India moved forward they looked menacing but they messed up far too many opportunities.
Salima Tete led from the front, towering over the midfield as well as overlapping upfront – it appeared like she was really enjoying the mantle of captaincy. It was Salima, who drilled in a slap pass outside the Welsh striking circle that was deflected home by Lalrindiki – one of the three Mizoram girls playing in the side – it was the second deflection goal on the trot.
The Indian skipper was again in the thick of action – she supplied a nifty pass to Mumtaz Khan, who wrong-footed Louise Loughlin and beat the determined defences of Ffion Horrell. India took comfort from their 3-1 lead going into the final quarter. Lalrindiki scored her second goal of the day and India’s fourth of a short corner rebound after two brave saves by Ffion Horrell. It was India’s first PC conversion after 5 abortive attempts. Deepika ensured India made the most of another short corner when she unleashed her drag-flick to the right corner of Ffion Horrell. Two goals in two minutes knocked the stuffing out of Wales as they seemed resigned to their fate.
India would hope their hitman Sangita Kumar, who hobbled off after taking a knock on her knee while making an attacking move, is available for the cruical next game against formidable Germany. Both teams resorted to disciplined hockey as no cards were awarded until the final minute of play when Lalremsiam was handed a green card. India would be elated with their big opening win but must guard against complacency and look to improve their percentage of PC conversions and get more consistency in their final finishing.