New Delhi: Indian women played out of their skin to eke out a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Italy in their last round-robin match to set up a summit clash with South Africa in their bid to qualify for the London Olympics.
The final will be held on Saturday. India were made to toil hard by the Italian defence but their never-say-die attitude finally earned them a goal in the 55th minute when Ritu Rani scored off a rebound after the ball had ballooned up following a penalty corner.
Earlier in the day, South Africa sealed their place in the finals after beating Canada 4-1.
Needing nothing less than a win, India tried to play an attacking game but their efforts didn’t yield any favourable result as Italy, needing just a draw, employed defensive tactics throughout the match.
However, India had themselves to blame for making things difficult as they failed to convert as many as five penalty corners before Jasjeet Kaur Handa and Ritu Rani combined to bring up the coveted goal.
India earned their first penalty corner in the ninth minute but subsequent hits by Jasjeet and later by Kirandeep Kaur were brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Roberta Lilliu.
The hosts once again had a couple of chances on penalty corners in the 17th minute but they squandered both with Deepika Thakur finding Magdalena Casale Gonzales’ foot first, while skipper Asunta Lakra also failing to penetrate the Italian defence.
India made numerous forays into the rival camp but the lack of co-ordination and their failure to finish things let them down.
Italian goalkeeper Lilliu made some brilliant saves while blocking Deepika’s solo hit and also the strike off the rebound by Poonam Rani.
In the 22nd minute, Italy earned consecutive short corners but the first one was saved by Indian goalie Savita, while their second strike went wide, much to the relief of the Indian fans.
Six minutes off the first half, India had another opportunity to nose ahead but Jaspreet Kaur’s strike missed the mark narrowly as the goalless streak continued for both the team.
In the second half, the 19th ranked Italians went completely on the defensive and created a melee in front of the goalmouth which made it all the more difficult for the home team break the deadlock.
India’s failure to convert the chances continued when they gained their fifth penalty corner in the 45th minute but once again they failed to convert it.
Three minutes later, Italy earned a short corner but the deadlocked continued with the Indian defence averting the attempt.
In the last 20 minutes, both teams upped the ante with India earning their sixth and decisive penalty corner in the 55th minute.
Jaspreet took the strike but her shot was blocked, however, an alert Ritu Rani picked up the rebound and nudged it home. There was a bit of doubt with the height but after some deliberations, the umpires awarded to the Indians.
Four minutes later, Italy also had an opportunity to level the score but they failed to convert the four penalty corners as India maintained their lead.
With time running out, Italy made many attempts to bring up the equaliser and kept the ball in the Indian half. Indian defence kept the ball away before conceding a penalty corner in the 67th minute, which Italian girls failed to convert.