Pro League: Spanish Women Outduel India in Nerve-Wracker

Spain may have been winless in the Pro League going into Sunday’s tie against India. They gave reigning World, Olympic and European champions Netherlands a run for their money when they went down to the Dutch 0-1 in the first leg and 2-3 in a shootout after teams were tied 2-2 in the second leg. The Adrian Lock-coached Redsticks showed how quickly they brushed aside the dissapointment of finishing second-best to India in the first leg as they redeemed themselves in the second leg, lapping up a nerve-wracking 4-3 win to chalk up their first Pro League win and also halt the winning run of the Indian eves.

The Indian women on their part, were consistently guilty of unforced errors, which was the enabler for Spain to boss over the midfield. The red brigade indulged in sleek ball distribution and kept India chasing the ball, especially in the first half.

Hardly had the hosts settled down, Spain drew first blood with a 4th minute deflection goal by Begona Garcia off a stinging reverse shot from skipper Maria Lopez. Forced to play catch-up hockey, India got themselves on level terms in the 10th minute when debutant Sangita Kumar scored a goal that would be any forward’s delight – weaving down the right, the talented Jharkhand lass dodged past 3 Spanish defenders – Maria Lopex, Beatriz Perex and Lucia Jimenez before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Ana Calvo.

The 7th ranked side were unperturbed by the Indian equaliser – they moved forward with finesse and kept the Indian deep defence under a lot of pressure. Spain forced three back-to-back penalty corners and profited from them when Xantal Gine’s stinging shot took a deflection off Maialen Garcia wrong-footing Savita in the 15th minute. If the first Indian equaliser was produced by Sangita, it was the turn of another Jharkhand girl Salima Tete to come to the party – she churned out a swift run from the right and unleashed a backhand flick that caught goalkeeper Ana Calvo napping in the 22nd minute. The joy of that lovely individual goal was short-lived as Spain raised the tempo and Belen Iglesias racked up a superb goal, lobbing it on the top left side corner of Savita, as Spain sat pretty at half-time with a cozy 3-1 lead.

India needed to come up with a massive effort in the second half but were denied from scoring by Spain in the third quarter. A nifty move by Navneet Kaur in the final quarter was slammed home by experienced Namita Toppo, who just had come on to the pitch – someone, who was overlooked for the Tokyo Olympics, she clearly delivered a statement of intent with her goal in front of her home crowd.

The match had all the trappings of heading into a shootout even as nerves seemed to get the better of both teams – Indian forward Jyoti was green-carded in the closing stages while Spain skipper Maria Lopez served a five-minute suspension as both teams played the final three minutes with 10 players. Spain forced a short corner in the final minute and Xantal Gine stepped forward and unleashed a rasping shot to help Spain eke out a nerve-jangling 4-3 win.

Spain threw everything they had at their disposal to squeeze out their first Pro League win but India had their chances and can look to raise the improvement bar for the upcoming matches.