Rio Olympics 2016: Indian women's hockey team eke out fighting draw against Japan
Rio de Janeiro: Returning to the Olympics after a hiatus of 36 years, Indian women's hockey team showed tremendous fighting spirit and came from two goals down to eke out a 2-2 draw against higher-ranked Japan in their opening Pool B match at the Rio Games on Sunday.
The Indians, ranked 13th in the world, were trailing by two goals at half time after World No. 10 Japan scored through Emi Nishikori (15th minute) and Mie Nakashima (28th).
But the Indians made a valiant fightback as Rani Rampal (31st) and Lilima Minz (40th) scored a goal each in the third and fourth quarters to secure points for their side.
The Indian girls got off to a bright start in the match before losing the plot towards the end of the first quarter.
They dominated the share of possesion but failed to create clear-cut scoring opportunities in the first 30 minutes. Whatever chances India created, the strikers misfired inside the rival circle.
Japan, on the other hand, took time to settle down but got into the groove as the game progressed.
India's first scoring chance came in the seventh minute but Preeti Dubey, who was lurking in front of Japan goal, failed to get a touch to Deepika's cross. A minute later Poonam Rani shot wide from inside the circle.
Just 10 seconds from the end of first quarter, India conceded a penalty corner and Japan broke the deadlock through a fine dummy goal from Nishikori.
In the second quarter, the Indian girls enjoyed more possession but were guilty of giving away the ball too easily.
Japan doubled their lead two minutes from half time from a swift break through Nakashima who deflected in a cross from left which India captain Sushila Chanu failed to cut off.
Down by two goals, India came out with more purpose after the change of ends and put pressure on the Japanese goal with relentless attacks.
The Indians earned their first penalty corner with the opening move of the third quarter and Rani Rampal was bang on target with a slap shot to reduce the margin.
Japan missed their second short corner, but India utilised the second of two more penalty corners they earned in the third quarter when Lilima Minz scored from a rebound to level the scores.
Goalkeeper Savita made a brilliant diving save in the final second of the third quarter to deny Yuri Nagai and keep India alive in the match.
India came out with aggressive intent in the final quarter and created numerous chances but failed to convert them into goals.
In fact, Vandana Kataria got a golden opportunity to seal the win for India but her shot from close range was saved by Japanese goalie Sakiyo Asano.
The Indians went through some anxious moments in the final few minutes when Japan pressed hard for the winner.
Savita saved the day for India with some alert goalkeeping as they survived some close shaves.
India will play Great Britain in their next pool match on Tuesday.
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Thakur said being the main financier of Olympic sports in the country, the government has every right to take calls on matters of national representation.
Pakistan's last appearance in India in any hockey event was in 2018 when the senior team participated in the men's World Cup.