It was a golden Wednesday for Indian hockey. Both its teams, men and women, won their respective Olympic Hockey Test Events in Tokyo. While men’s team recorded its biggest ever win (5-0) over New Zealand in the final, women’s team beat Japan 2-1, for the second time with identical margin in the same tournament. Japan is the current Asian Games champion in both men and women sections. In the men’s section, Japan finished with a bronze defeating Malaysia 6-1.
Navjot Kaur and Lalremsiami were the stars of India’s win in the gold medal match. It was a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Japan in the final of the competition. Navjot Kaur (11′) and Lalremsiami (33′) scored the goals for the World No. 10 side, while Japan’s only goal of the match came in the 12th minute from Minami Shimizu.
It was a great first quarter as both the teams went for attacking hockey and scored a goal each. It was India who dominated the first 10 minutes and finally managed to find the breakthrough in the 11th minute when a brilliant team-move saw Navjot Kaur take the lead for India. She kept her nerve under pressure and produced a fine finish in front of the goal to make it a great start for the World no. 10 team. However, the next minute saw Japan strike back with a well-crafted field goal which was put into the back of the net by Minami Shimizu.
The second quarter saw both the teams focus on their defensive structure, and tread carefully in the attacking third. India had a few chances in the first few minutes, with the likes of Vandana Katariya and Navjot Kaur combining well on the attacking front, but could not produce a goal-scoring opportunity. Whereas Japan also tried to create some opportunities of its own, with goalscorer Shimizu coming close to scoring her second of the match, but India defended well to make sure that the teams went into the half-time level at 1-1.
It was an aggressive start from the Indian team after the half-time break as it earned a penalty corner in the 33rd minute. India’s prolific drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur stepped up to take the shot, but her shot was saved by the Japanese goalkeeper Megumi Kageyama, but the rebound fell to India’s young forward Lalremsiami, who did not make a mistake in putting the ball into the back of the net to make it 2-1 for India. It was a huge blow to the hosts who were finding it difficult to cope up with India’s rhythm, but after some tough battles in the midfield, the Japanese team earned back-to-back penalty corners in the 42nd minute. However, India’s defense was up to the task. India also had a penalty corner in the 45th minute, but could not utilize it.
India’s task in the last quarter was to retain its lead, while Japan seemed determined to find the equalizer. It was a nervous last quarter for both the teams were under pressure. The first chance of the last quarter fell to India who had an opportunity to make it 3-1 but could not make the most of it as Kageyama made a diving save. The situation became quite exciting for both the teams in the last few minutes of the match, and Japan won back-to-back penalty corners, but Indian goalkeeper Savita made a great save on the second attempt to make sure that India saw out a 2-1 win.
Interestingly India won only two of the four games it played in the Event and both the wins were against the host Japan. India played 2-2 draw against Australia and a goalless draw against China in other games of women’s section.