FIH Pro League: Indian women beat USA 4-2, open five-point lead in race for third spot

Rotterdam (the Netherlands), June 21 (IANS) Two goals in the first minute of the second half set the Indian women’s hockey team on the path to overhauling a one-goal deficit and scripting a rousing 4-2 win against a fighting United States in the FIH Pro League here on Tuesday.

India weathered an early fight from the USA and conceded the lead in the 28th minute before fighting back to win the first match of the double header.

Deep Grace Ekka (31st min), Navneet Kaur (32nd min), Sonika (39th min) and Vandana Katariya (49th min) struck for India while Danielle Grega (28th min) and Natalie Konerth (45th min) scored for the United States as the Indians weathered some anxious moments in the final quarter to take three points from the match,

The win helped India move up to 27 points in the points table, five points ahead of fourth-placed Belgium, who have two more matches to play and can reach a maximum of 28 points. India will thus have to win their second encounter with the USA — their final match in the FIH Pro League 2021-22 campaign — at least in a shoot-out to prevent Belgium from overtaking them and finishing third behind champions Argentina and the second-placed Netherlands.

On Tuesday, India dominated possession, made 33 circle penetrations to 12 by the USA, had 16 shots at the goal (to eight by the USA) and earned seven penalty corners to five by their opponents.

However, it was not as clinical a performance as coach Janeke Schopman would have liked as the Indians struggled to get going in the first half and conceded an early lead.

It was a quiet start to the match, with both teams trying to create space in each other’s striking circle, but without causing much damage. It was the USA who came up with the first real attack in the 10th minute when Megan Rodger’s run on the left flank earned them a penalty corner but missed out on converting it.

Two minutes later, India also won their first PC of the match, but Gurjit missed out on converting the opportunity, thus ending the quarter at 0-0.

The Indian team showcased its attacking intent immediately at the start of the second quarter and had a chance to break the deadlock, but the USA defence kept the ball away from the goal. In the 21st minute, the USA earned back-to-back PCs, but the Indian defence unit kept them at bay.

India responded quickly and created a couple of goalscoring opportunities but the USA defence once again nullified their attempts. They even earned their second PC of the match but missed out on converting it.

However, in the 28th minute, the USA went ahead two minutes before the end of the second quarter with Danielle Grega deflecting the ball past goalkeeper Bichu Devi, giving the finishing touch to a fine overhead pass into the circle by Erin Matson.

However, India responded soon after the resumption with vice-captain Deep Grace Ekka converting a penalty corner with a superb slap-sweep within 45 seconds after half-time to level scores after

India went ahead 2-1 with a few seconds as Navneet Kaur scored off a superb attack. A swift exchange of passes between Jyoti and Sharmila Devi on the left flank saw India breach the USA defence. The ball reached forward Vandana Katariya, who set up Navneet Kaur, and the youngster scored a fine goal.

The Indian team rode on the momentum and earned a penalty corner in the 36th minute. However, Gurjit’s attempt was yet again blocked by the USA goalkeeper.

Slowly taking control of proceedings, India went 3-1 ahead through Sonika in the 39th minute. A superb exchange of passes between Sharmila and Vandana set up Sonika, who deflected the ball into the goal.

However, the USA tried to fight back and their efforts paid off when they won a PC with seconds left in the third quarter. Natalie Konerth found the back of the net off a rebound to make it 2-3 at the end of the third quarter.

The USA started the final quarter aggressively and created a chance early on, but young goalkeeper Bichu Devi averted the danger. Experienced forward Vandana Katariya restored India’s two-goal lead on the counterattack in the 50th minute.

India had a chance to extend the lead but Sangita, with only the goalkeeper to beat, was thwarted by a defender peddling back after the World No 6 capitalised on a miss pass by a USA defender.

The USA, not giving up easily, earned yet another PC in the 53rd minute, but failed to convert it. The Indians took control of the game in the closing stage of the match to seal a 4-2 victory.