A lethargic India turned in a lackadaisical performance on Thursday, losing to the world’s 16th ranked team, Ireland, 0-1 in their Women's Hockey World Cup match. It was a match the Rani Rampal-led side should have comfortably won, given the experience and talent in their ranks. Forget rankings, circle entries, shots on goals, the simple fact is India didn’t show the requisite hunger to wrap it up. Ireland played full tilt, winning the mental battle on a day when the temperatures at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre touched 34 degrees. India showed tremendous promise in their 1-1 draw against Olympic champions England in their first match, and one expected the compact and solidity to go a notch higher against lower-ranked teams. But after the loss to the Irish, the display against England now seems an aberration.
Ireland created history as they won their second game. Prior to this tournament, Ireland had never won two games at a World Cup. The win secures Ireland’s place at the top of Pool B and means the second lowest-ranked team is the first to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Ireland's win over the seventh-ranked USA should have been a warning. But after an initial burst of aggression by India, Ireland rotated the ball for long periods in all four quarters and dominated possession. The Irish, knowing India's penchant for runs through the middle where Rani Rampal, Vandana Katariya, Lilima Minz, and Neha Goyal could have strangled them out of the match, kept the flanks in full play. Time and again, they raced down the flanks, keeping the ball away from the Indians. If they couldn’t break into the circle, they killed off vital seconds in the corners or rotated through the midfield. Ireland had prepared well and it showed in their defensive display too.
It is in such matches that certain players raise the tempo of the game with their skills. Anna O’Flanangan, playing her 170th match, scored her 64th goal and single-handedly ran the Indian defence ragged with her angular runs down the flank and along the touch line. She was the reason why India couldn’t score off their seven PCs. Her pace unsettled Gurjit Kaur and a desperate India had to use the direct hit by Deepika; it was like the modern artillery misfiring, so bring in the ancient cannons.
After Nicola Evans had muffed an early opportunity, Rani Rampal created a PC against the run of play. But Gurjit took an extra second on the flick, enough time for a sprinting Anna Flanagan to deflect it. That run showed the coach and staff on the bench to immediately change tactics on the PCs. They could have gone wider or tried the indirect. Going wider would have meant that Anna had to run sideways and not straight at Gurjit.
In the 13th minute, Ireland earned their first PC when Kathryn Mullan, the captain, was stick-checked in the circle. Shirley McCay’s flick was powerful and right in the middle. Anna Flanagan made a run into the circle and stuck out her stick to brilliantly deflect the ball high into the goal.
Ireland led 1-0 and the pressure was on. India hates chasing. Not that they haven't won going after a target, but the goal muddled their thinking. Rani should have become the playmaker, keeping Neha Goyal, Vandana and Lalresiami upfront. Lilima Minz, who carried the ball well, should have become the main playmaker. India, in the next three quarters, lacked a midfield master who could have given direction to the team. The midfield either lost the ball on the edge of the Irish striking circle or the pass was too soft.
In the second quarter, India had six shots on goal to Ireland’s two. Even the circle entries were more for India. On the PC front, both the teams had two each in this quarter. Gurjit stuck to the direct method to convert PCs, but it bore no result. After wasting three PCs, India were relying more on hope or a wicked deflection to get the equaliser.
India’s domination continued in the next quarter, but the Irish goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was in sublime form. She cut the angles and brought off a couple of good PC saves. Rani missed a couple, Neha failed to trap, Lilima’s shot on the Irish goal was weak. India had seven circle entries, five shots on goal and three PCs, but no goals. The third quarter also belonged to Anna O’Flanagan who made the right flank her own. In one of the moves, she almost single-handedly went in from the right flank and after going past three players, almost scored but couldn’t control her own momentum.
India earned their sixth PC at the end of the fourth quarter. This time, Gurjit stepped back and let Deepika take the direct hit. It was defended very well, but the ball went to Navneet Kaur who made a complete hash of it.
India had a God-sent opportunity in the dying minutes of the game, but Rani Rampal, after doing the hard work of snatching the ball from a defender, let loose a shot that McFerran saved by thrusting out her pad. At the end, Evans could have made the match safe but the ball that beat the Indian defenders ended up not being trapped by Evans. India had their seventh PC and Grace took a swipe, but Evans raced in and cleared the threat.
Even in final minutes, with the Irish wilting under the heat, India didn’t make a concentrated effort to get the equaliser. After the match, Anna Flanagan said she was "speechless”.
McFerran, the goalkeeper who made the victory possible, said, “It’s a great day for Irish hockey as the women’s team made it to the quarter-finals for the first time in 16 years.”
Take a look at the stats and understand the disparity — India had 15 shots on goal, 27 circle entries and seven PCs. Ireland had 10 shots on goal, five circle entries and one PC converted.
Ireland’s chief coach, Graham Shaw, said. “I always believed we could push and win momentum. It’s always difficult to execute it and I am glad they did.” In the end, a visibly excited Shaw said, “You could dominate games and still lose.” The reference was to the Indian side.
Indian coach Sjoerd Marijne doesn’t like commenting on the match. All he said was, “Ireland played well but I am also happy with the way PCs were created.” Speaking on the last match against the USA, Marijne said the confidence was there and that the last Pool games would be very interesting.
A team that never won two games in a row now sits pretty on top of the table with six points, leaving others to play catch-up. Ireland have six points with a game against England in hand while England sits on second place. India and USA have a point each. England can go to a maximum five, and one among India and USA will gobble up the third spot. The fourth-placed team in the Pool gets eliminated.
India came to the World Cup with lot of promise. The defeat against the Irish may be a blip or a tactical calculation gone horribly wrong. However, victory against the USA could provide the perfect antidote.
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Updated Date: Jul 27, 2018 11:56:37 IST