A second half goal blitz helped India's women hockey team beat the USA 5-1 in the first leg of their FIH Olympic qualifier.
Drag-flicker Gurjit found the net twice, while Lilima Minz, Sharmila Devi and Navneet Kaur helped themselves to a goal each as they stunned the USA after the break to take a big step towards qualification for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Erin Matson scored the only goal for the visitors in Bhubaneswar.
The Indians found their feet early and dominated possession in the opening few minutes. However, a resolute US defence ensured that they blocked any circle entries from the home side.
The visitors found success on counters, especially from the right flank, with Alyssa Parker and Ashley Hoffman running at the Indian defence with purpose. Parker even found a good opening but scuffed her shot just wide of the post.
Margaux Paolino came close to opening the score, prevented only by goalkeeper Savita’s quick footwork. The visitors grew in confidence and began to dominate possession, but India’s defence stayed compact and resisted the US onslaught to maintain parity on the scoreboard.
Both teams earned a couple of penalty corners each in the second quarter but failed to convert their chances. The home side finally found the breakthrough after a missed trap on a penalty corner was followed by some calm passing from the Indian women inside the US’ striking circle, before Neha Goyal found a wide-open Minz, who stroked it home to give India the lead at the break.
An Indian charge
The US team committed bodies forward as they searched for an equaliser post the break, but with the team pushing forward, gaps appeared in the visitors’ defence and India threatened to score the second on the counter.
Two outstanding saves from Kelsey Bing kept the US deficit at one, but India finally managed to double their lead after a quick one-two between Neha and Vandana opened up the visitors’ defence, and the latter squared it for Sharmila who turned the ball home from close range.
Just a couple of minutes later, India added a third as Gurjit finally found the back of the net to give India a three-goal cushion at the end of the third quarter. Less than half a minute into the fourth quarter, India found a fourth, as Salima Tete sprinted down the right flank before squaring it to Navneet, who smashed it low and hard into the bottom-left corner.
Gurjit converted a penalty stroke to make it 5-0 in favour of the hosts. However, four minutes later, a cynical foul in the circle from an Indian defender gave the visitors a chance to cut the deficit to four from the penalty spot, and Erin Matson made no mistake in putting it away. The visitors finished the game stronger of the two sides but couldn’t find the back of the net, as India’s defence kept the opposition attackers at bay and won the contest handsomely.
The teams will now renew rivalries once again at the Kalinga Stadium on Saturday, with the United States needing to summon an incredible comeback to salvage their hopes of booking a place at Tokyo 2020.