India were expected to steamroll their neighbours but the Chinese team played to a plan and made it work
Though defensively sound and compact for the second game running, a very cagey Indian women’s hockey team turned out for their second Pool B match of the World Cup to draw 1-1 against China at Amstelveen’s Wagener Stadium on Tuesday.
After drawing 1-1 against world No 4 England on Sunday evening, India were expected to steamroll their neighbours, especially after winning all three matches against world No 13 earlier this year. But a more experienced Chinese outfit, who had drawn 2-2 in their opener against New Zealand on Saturday, have turned up at the quadrennial event, drawing against much-higher ranked teams so far.
World No 8 India had beaten China 2-0 in the Asia Cup bronze medal playoff in Muscat in January following it up with a 7-1 thumping in the Pro League at the same venue a couple of days later. They had also earned a 2-1 victory the next day.
India took the lead in the 23rd minute via a penalty corner but a review from China, who are now coached by Alyson Annan of Australia, showed that the ball had bounced off Jyoti’s body and not stick, thereby annulling India’s lead.
Barring one moment of brilliance when a Xindan Zhang pushback dissected the Indian defence to pass the ball to Jiali Zheng who converted in the 25th minute, both India and China played out a very guarded first half with neither able to press hard, basing their entire game on defence.
Indian forwards failed to score field goals but did well to earn five penalty corners to two of China. It was on the final one that India’s most experienced player, Vandana Katariya, provided the leveller in the dying seconds of the third quarter. Drag-flicker’s Gurjit Kaur’s scoop was heading straight to China goalkeeper Ping Liu but Vandana got the deflection at the right moment to put the ball into the top right.
Egged on by partisan crowd chanting the team’s name, India found wind in their sails after the goal in the final quarter. The Savita Punia-led side pressed hard in the final quarter but China became a compact defence block playing in their own D. Despite chances for both teams, the scoreline remained 1-1 at the final hooter.
While ball possession saw an equal share, India had nine shots on goal to China’s two and had 16 circle penetrations to China’s 10.
“We played very well but a bit disappointed as we could have won the match and won three points. We played as a team and worked hard in the match and hoped that we would win. But it did not happen. But we feel good as a team,” said Vandana, who is India’s only woman hockey player to have scored a hat-trick in the Olympics.
India will next play New Zealand, who take on England later on Tuesday, on Thursday in their final group match. The group topper will get a direct entry to the quarter-finals while the second and third placed teams will enter the crossovers to fight for quarter-final spots. “We will watch videos of New Zealand and then devise our strategies accordingly,” added Vandana.