Indian hockey created a record-breaking history when both men and women hockey teams clinched the coveted titles at Asia Cup 2017. And, with that, Indian hockey proves that it is rising towards the pinnacle. However, the real test for both the teams will begin when they start playing against teams from Europe, Latin America and Australia.
The Chief Coach of women’s hockey team, Harendra Singh, has rightly said that this is just the beginning. As the team moves ahead, the journey becomes difficult because they will face the world’s top teams in 2018, in the upcoming World Cup, Asian Games and Common Wealth competition. It is good for Indian Hockey that both the teams have qualified for World Cup on merit. The success in Asia Cup will certainly boost their morale.
Men have brought this glory after a gap of 10 years and the women have achieved this laurel after 13 years. Coincidently, both the teams were playing under new coaches. Men’s new squad was under Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne, whereas women were trained by Harendra Singh. Harendra was on a break but he was immediately called back to trained the team for the upcoming competitions.
Indian men defeated Malaysia 2-1 in the final to clinch the Asia Cup title. Winners scored through old horse Ramandeep Singh and young Lalit Upadhyay. Shahril Saabah counted for losers. Pakistan demolished reigning champion South Korea 6-3 to win the Bronze. It is Pakistan’s third Bronze in this tournament. They have also won three Gold and three Silver medals. South Korea has had the honour of winning Asia Cup four times, whereas India has won it thrice. India always gets podium finish except for once in this competition.
In Asia Cup edition, India was in group A along with Bangladesh, Japan and its arch-rival Pakistan whereas, Korea, Malaysia, China and Oman were placed in group B. World number six India started its campaign against gritty Japan whom they beat 5-1. It will be pertinent to mention here that India thrashed Japan 11-1 when they first met at Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. It was a positive start. Sailing on waves of victory they thrashed Bangladesh 7-0 and then derailed arch-rival Pakistan 3-1. This way world number six finished its league engagements with nine points, scoring 15 goals and conceding two only.
In the Super-4 league, defending champion South Korea gave a threat to India. Koreans were leading with solitary goal till the end. India neutralised this lead at the stroke of hooter which proved as toughest encounter 1-1. In the second encounter, Indian dethroned the ultimate finalist Malaysia 6-2.
Before entering the finale, the last battle was a matter of India’s pride and Pakistan’s vengeance. Surprisingly, history was made against India unlike before, when India had never defeated Pakistan twice in a competition. But this time, they broke the taboo and created history. In last encounter of Super-4 India again beat Pakistan convincingly 4-0. And, with this win India entered in the finals holding its head high.
The final was a must-watch encounter. Malaysia whom India outclassed 6-2 in the league match was a hard nut to crack in the title clash. They tackled India’s attacking forward line very well and did not give any free space for their manoeuvring. They were matching the speed of SV Sunil and didn’t allow Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, young Lalit Kumar, Gurjant or Satbir to take a clear look at their goal. The only blemish point of Malaysian team was that they were early lethargic in defence, which proved fatal for them but India’s opportunistic forward Ramandeep Singh made full use of their slowness to put India ahead in third minute (1-0). After that, they fought gallantly and kept India surging in check. In spite of Malaysians’ heroic efforts, India doubled the lead a minute before the breather. This time the goal came from the young turk Lalit Upadhyay.
The second half was a see-saw battle. Indians were on their toes. They had to defend the slender lead of a solitary goal. Then came the moment of tension; it is a known fact that India gets nervous in the last minutes and on most of the occasions concede soft goals. This was a big worry for Indian Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne. Indian fans in the stadium and in front of television screens kept their fingers crossed. Their fears came true when Malaysia scored through Shahril Saabah to reduce the margin 1-2. A well-read English proverb ‘there is many a slip between the cup and the lip’ was hovering in their minds. But ‘no slip’ came in between this time and India was able to sustain their 2-1 lead till the end to lift the coveted Asia Cup for the third time.
Fabulous women’s team
The women team played every match with the spirit and hunger to win. Their first prey was lowly Singapore whom they mauled 10-0, then outclassed China 4-1 to bring the ripple in the competition. Indian women’s team scored through Gurjit Kaur (19th minute), Navjot Kaur (32nd minute), Neha Goyal (49th minute) and skipper Rani Rampal (58th minute). Qiuxia Cui scored for China in 38th minute. India took an early lead in 19th minute through Gurjit Kaur which was doubled by Navjot Kaur in 32nd minute. China reduced the margin 1-2 through a penalty corner conversion by Qiuxia Cui just after half-time (38th minute). But after that, Indian women’s team was denied any shot on their goal and scored two more, one by Neha Goyal in 49th minute and then the last one by skipper Rani Rampal in 58th minute to wrap up the match. The next encounter against weak Kazakhstan was a cakewalk for India. India scored at willpower and ruined Kazakhstan 7-1. In the last league encounter, India had to sweat a bit to beat gritty Malaysia 2-0.
In semi-final India faced the mighty Japan, a match in which India showed their class. Winning is Japan’s favourite game but the determined Indian team had something else on their mind. By playing in attack mode Indian team upset the rhythm of Japan and pumped in four goals. Gurpreet Kaur, Navjot Kaur and Lalremsiami were the scorers. Japan was able to reduce the margin by scoring two goals.
Final against China was a treat to watch. Both the teams fought tooth and nail. Though India had a psychological advantage of beating China in league, convincingly 4-1, but final was a different ball game. China was a hard nut to crack. Navjot Kaur opened India’s account in 25th minute which was equalised by Tiantian Luo by a penalty corner in 47th minute. In shootout, Captain Rani Rampal scored twice whereas, Monica, Lilima Minze and Navjot scored a piece each. But the hero of this shootout was goalkeeper Savita, who foiled the last attempt of Chinese attacker. Savita made a stunning goal and gave India a thumping 5-4 victory. With that score, Indian women’s hockey team lifted Asia Cup 2017.