'You still have 30 minutes' — Rani Rampal, Sjoerd Marijne recall historical second-half goal that booked India's ticket to Tokyo Olympics
Indian women's hockey captain Rani Rampal and coach Sjoerd Marijne recall half time talks, strategy, and learnings from the second tie against USA of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers 2019
India women's hockey captain Rani Rampal and coach Sjoerd Marijne recall the tense second-leg Olympic qualifier against USA.
The coach maintains that the team needs to work on running at goodÂ speed throughout a match.
"The scope of improvement is there. We learnt a lot against the USA," Rani said.
New Delhi: Rani Rampal and her girls were excited and hopeful, looking forward to the big day. This was the second tie between India and USA and the winner on aggregate was going to Tokyo. India had an upper hand, with the goal difference of four from the previous match. The girls were confident of making the cut.
"The team was in a great mood before the match. Everyone was excited for the second tie and knew that we could not take the match lightly," Rani told Firstpost, remembering the mood in the camp minutes before the clock started ticking. However, they soon found themselves cramped and out of space against the rampaging Americans.
Indians handed two penalties to USA who failed to capitalise. But they kept coming hard at the Indians. India Coach Sjoerd Marijne could sense the sudden pressure on his team. They were not at their best and they were soon going to crumble under this attack from the US.
And it started. Amanda Magadan scored through a penalty corner deflection in the fifth minute.
Eight minutes later, Kathleen Sharkey breached the Indian defence and fired the ball into the bottom right corner.
Alyssa Parker created one more chance at the start of the second quarter as defence faltered again; this went high into the net.
Nerves got better of India and they missed to convert two penalties. Bizarre. The crowd was stunned, the Indian support staff was equally baffled.
A day before, with a lead of four goals, Indian women were expected to write history by qualifying for successive Olympics, under the able leadership of Rani. As everyone was engrossed in these thoughts, Amanda crashed her second goal into the left corner.
USA 4 - India 0. And on aggregate, this was now battle of equals.
The first 30 minutes of the second tie was the worst hockey the Indian team had played in some time. At half-time, with India under the pump, the girls looked pale and outdone. Marijne saw this picture and felt that they had given up already. The shoulders had dropped as everyone could see the dream being shattered. But Marijne knew what needed to be done. The Indians were not running well and the defence was awry. He regrouped the squad immediately and gave a pep talk.
"You still have 30 minutes, the match is not over", is what he told the girls in the half time.
"In the halftime, the heads were down. I felt like as if we have lost the game. They did not realise that there were 30 minutes to go. I told them that we have not lost the match. It is still 0-0. And now let's show them what you are capable of. And show to yourself, what everything you have got, show fight and spirit," Marijne recalled the conversation while speaking to Firstpost.
Captain Rani Rampal led her team out, confident that something had to happen from somewhere. The need was to remain calm and play aggressive hockey, which was missing in the first half of the match.
But there was a lot more going on in Rani's head. The boarding ticket was in the team's hand and they had to decide their fate from hereon. Also, some careers were at stake, including Rani's.
"During the fourth quarter, this fear of loss entered my thoughts and I felt if we don't make it, for some of us in the team, this could be the end of our careers," said Rani.
This was still minutes before Rani fired the ball into the goal to take India's overall lead ahead of USA in the 49th minute.
"I looked back at all the hard work of the last three years and felt we cannot let this slip out of our hands."
But by the 50th minute, she had rescued careers, rejuvenated spirits, refilled hearts with hope, and taken India close to their successive appearance in the Olympics. She did it all with that one strike inside the USA circle, where her awareness and skill helped India seize an ordinary day in office. Not to forget, four years ago, it was Rani who had done that when Indian women looked for their maiden Olympics appearance in 36 years. The champion striker knows a thing or two about writing history but the most significant chapter awaits in Tokyo.
"In 2015, I had struck three goals from the same spot. I was calm and composed and that is why I could score that goal. If I panicked, who knows I could have missed the goal," said Rani.
However, outside the circle, Marijne was confident after watching the girls play in the second half.
"(In the second half), USA came in our circle two or three times but that was it, we began to show our quality about good defence. It is all about the mindset. It is improving very much but sometimes you take a step back but when you take a step back, you try to see on the things on why it happened," said Marijne.
It's been almost a month since the red-letter day. But it was also a day when India displayed a complete contrasting display in the 24 hours after showing utter dominance against the same opposition.
But Marijne does not want to put too much stress about India's two performances.
"It is an area we are going to improve. But you must not forget that they (USA) scored 4 goals in one half. They felt like nobody can beat them. That they were going to take it away from us. That (the comeback) suggests that things have changed in Indian women's hockey," he said.
He is not wrong. The women have come back strongly in the third and fourth quarters in both the matches, which surely means that the fitness levels have gone up, something for which the coach and the fitness trainer Wayne Lombard have to be praised. Marijne had mentioned how Indians did not run well in the first half and the USA's sudden charge made matter worse. He still maintains that the team needs to work on running at good speed throughout a match.
"We watched the second match again. I showed them why those things happened and a few solutions to why those things happen. We were a little bit more freezing than fighting in the first two quarters. One of the things we need to learn is if you lose, you lose with the heads up. You lose fighting. In the first half, what happened was we were freezing and did not do enough running. It is not that we don't want to but it is what the pressure brings with it," said Marijne.
Rani echoed the thought, saying, "The scope of improvement is there. We learnt a lot against the USA. We need to have a balance between attack and controlling the game. We have eight months. We don't want to be in the situation that when we are playing in the Games, we suddenly feel that two or three things needed sorting out. We cannot do that."
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