India created history as they edged past China 5-4 via shootouts to win the women's Asia Cup hockey title in Japan on Sunday. With this, India also qualified for next year's World Cup as Continental Champions.
It was skipper Rani who scored the winning goal for India while Savita made a great save in sudden death to ensure India the 5-4 score in the penalty shootout. Earlier, it was Navjot Kaur who scored India's lone goal in the 25th minute. It was in 2004 when the Indian women's team lifted the Asia Cup after beating Japan 1-0 in the final. It was advantage China right at the start as a stick check in the circle saw India concede a penalty corner in only the second minute of the game.
However, Savita was at her usual best to pad it away while an alert Deep Grace cleared the ball. Soon after, the Indian forwards launched a swift attack with Navneet Kaur and Vandana working in tandem to find space in the Chinese defence but an attentive Wang Na averted the danger.
China, meanwhile, won their second penalty corner but Savita was spot on yet again to pad away Meiyu Liang's flick. With the first quarter ending in a stalemate, India came back looking determined to find a breakthrough. The Indian forwards kept the pressure on China as they made brave forays into the striking circle.
Navjot Kaur came close to converting a field goal in the 17th minute but her diving effort was blocked even as skipper Rani made a quick attempt to find a deflection. It was not until the 25th minute when India found their first breakthrough when Navneet Kaur and Rani played give and take before penetrating the circle only to assist Navjot who took a clear shot on goal. It was a much-needed 1-0 lead for India. Though China launched a counter-attack soon after, the Indian defenders were up to the task in denying them success.
India began the third quarter rather positively as they persisted with an aggressive attack. They dominated ball possession with accurate passing, rotating the ball and testing China's patience. Neha Goyal and Lilima Minz showcased good dribbling skills to steer past the Chinese defenders but a second goal was not to come by even as the clock ticked away to the third hooter.
On China's part, they stayed disciplined in their defence to deny India a chance to score through a penalty corner. The final quarter was tense as China won a penalty corner through a successful video referral in the 47th minute. Tiantian Luo kept low as she improvised from the injection to find the right corner of the post, scoring a sensational equaliser for China.
The following minutes saw both teams play at par with each other, with neither able to stay in control. With nine minutes left for the final hooter, India upped their attack desperately attempting to find a gap in the 15-yard mark but the Chinese defenders were resolute in not allowing any room for error.
Meanwhile, China won their fourth penalty corner of the match with a little less than three minutes to go for the final whistle. But it was brilliantly saved by rusher Sunita Lakra and almost immediately, India launched a counter-attack but only to send the ball wide off the target and complete the full-time in a stalemate resulting in a shootout. In the penalty shootout, Rani scored twice while Monica, Lilima Minz, and Navjot scored a goal each to ensure India reclaimed the Asia Cup title after 13 years. Savita was adjudged Goalkeeper of the Tournament while Monica won the Woman of the Match award.
With inputs from IANS.
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