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Brave India fail to find fitting finish against Germany | Hockey

For captain and goalkeeper Savita Punia who pulled out one quality save after another through regulation time, it ended with Lisa Nolte nutmegging her in the sudden death of penalty shootout. For the Indian women’s hockey team that hit Germany first, took a couple of blows yet had enough fight left to strike another one of their own in the dying minutes, it ended with a crushing 3-4 shootout defeat after being 2-2 through the 60 minutes of the semi-final.

India couldn’t land that finishing punch after a fighting battle against the 2016 Rio Games bronze medallists.(PTI)
India couldn’t land that finishing punch after a fighting battle against the 2016 Rio Games bronze medallists.(PTI)

At the haze-engulfed Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Astroturf Hockey Stadium in Ranchi where India’s former cricket captain and finisher-in-chief MS Dhoni watched on, Ispo

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They aren’t quite out for the count yet to enter the 2024 Paris Olympics ring, but now stare at a must-win bout against Japan — they lost to USA 1-2 earlier — on Friday in which they simply cannot afford to not turn up.

They did turn up alright on Thursday, presenting two goals from their oft-absent penalty corner (PC) conversion in the 15th and 59th minute through Deepika and Ishika Chaudhary, respectively. But a brace by Germany’s Charlotte Stapenhorst half an hour apart (27th and 57th minutes) through the game’s middle phase where India not just lost their dominance but also control cost them.

The hosts also started stronger in the shootout, with Savita saving two of the first three German attempts and Sangita Kumari and Sonika scoring India’s first two. But as Navneet Kaur and Neha missed their shots and Nike Lorenz and Nolte converted theirs to put Germany ahead 3-2, it required a calm Lalremsiami to slot one home and take it to sudden death.

A high-pressure situation with no room for error began with three misses (Sangita and Sonika for India and Sonja Zimmermann for Germany). Until Nolte, with a no-look flick between Savita’s legs with her back to her, ensured Germany a Paris ticket while putting India on the wait list.

“Right now, the feeling is of disappointment, and you need to give the players some time. We have to reset tomorrow (Friday), and that’s what we’ll do. Some of them were already ready, others not so much,” India head coach Janneke Schopman said.

India were sure ready for a tussle on Thursday. Germany went off the blocks, and the hosts needed a review to overturn a PC in the first minute. India made their first threatening move midway into the quarter, a wonderful back-flick by Sonika taken right uptill the opposition D by Deepika with a quick run on the left. A minute later, Germany launched a counter-attack to earn their first PC, which was saved by Savita’s right foot.

It was India’s turn to get their opening PC with less than a minute left of the quarter. And it was Deepika’s turn to finally make her dragflick count this tournament as she fired the ball between the legs of goalkeeper Julia Sonntag.

It was the kind of PC conversion that this team has craved for a while, and one that got their taste buds going for some more attacks. Yet all Germany needed was a moment of spark, and that was lit by Stapenhorst who received the ball inside the Indian D and circled past Udita and Savita to level things up.

That’s when India began to move away from what worked for them, opting for long and aerial balls and hasty passes in the third quarter that was all Germany after a close first half and where Savita had to pull off another quality save.

A minute after Deepika’s attempted scoop was saved by the goalkeeper (49th minute), Salima Tete was handed a yellow card that left India with 10 players on the field. Although that didn’t hurt them, what did in the 57th minute was Sonika failing to trap the ball inside the Indian circle and give Stapenhorst a chance to snatch and slot it past Savita.

That India equalised with a little over a minute to go — through a rebound off a PC variation that Ishika was at the right place to cash in on — showed Schopman the kind of attitude and fight that India can bring to the table.

They will need to bring all of that back again on Friday, against a familiar team they have beaten at the Asian Champions Trophy two months ago and the Asian Games before that. “We know all the pressure will be on India. They are playing at home, and are expected to qualify. We will be ready to have a crack at them,” Japan coach Jude Menezes said.

A gritty outing against Germany notwithstanding, India find themselves on a tight rope against Japan. On one side is an Olympic spot and on the other a crushing slide from the 4th-place finish in Tokyo. “The only thing we can do is show up,” Schopman said.

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