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New Indian Express: The final frontier: Women hockey team eye Olympic berth after gritty win (8/30/2018)
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New Indian Express: The final frontier: Women's hockey team eye Olympic berth after gritty win against China

Having pumped in a combined 66 goals in the preliminary stages (India 38, China 28), the semifinal was expected to be a high-scoring affair.

JAKARTA : That whole coach swap thing seems to be working. At least for the women’s hockey team. On Wednesday, the World No 9 advanced to their first Asian Games final in 20 years (Bangkok in 1998). It wasn’t a straightforward outcome but they ultimately battled past China 1-0 to set up a date with Japan in the final on Friday. Having pumped in a combined 66 goals in the preliminary stages (India 38, China 28), the semifinal was expected to be a high-scoring affair.

That narrative was destroyed early on as both teams struggled. Chances were at a premium before and after Gurjit Kaur’s fierce drag-flick from a penalty corner in the 52nd minute. This period of play was one of the few times in the entire match when the Indian attack was on top. They had gotten into a raft of promising positions and also earned three short corners, the last one yielding the necessary result. Both teams did have other set-piece opportunities but squandered it thanks to basic errors.

While reaching the final was the minimum objective, coach Sjoerd Marijne’s charges will be fancying their chances against Japan. The World No 14, who have seen some funding of late thanks to the Olympics in 2020, are very much a work in progress. In fact, in the last high-profile meeting between the two sides, the semifinals of the Asia Cup last November, India emerged victorious 4-2. They followed that up with a 4-1 at the Asian Champions Trophy in May.

Even otherwise, the motivation will be there to succeed. If they win the final, they will become one of the first Indian teams to qualify for the Olympics (continental winners are assured of an Olympic berth).The Dutchman Marijne, who rejoined the women’s team after a below par showing with the men’s team at the Commonwealth Games, wasn’t too pleased with what he saw against China. “The team surely did not play to its potential in the first half,” he said.

“They stepped up in the second half and I am really happy for these girls. I know how much work they have put in to be here. Japan will be a tough challenge but our girls will be up for the challenge.”India have the burden of history against them. No Indian team has won women’s gold at the Asiad since the 1982 Games in New Delhi. Then again, a lot of Indian athletes have spat at history over the last 12 days.

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