London: Their erratic campaign back on track, the Indian women’s hockey team would now be aiming to secure its first World Cup semifinal spot in 44 years by extracting revenge from giant-killers Ireland in the last-eight stage here tomorrow.
India registered their first win of the tournament by sailing past Italy in a quarterfinal playoff last night and if If they manage to beat Ireland, it would ensure them only their second appearance in the World Cup last-four. The only time India had managed to enter the semi-finals of the showpiece event was back in 1974 in Mandelieu, France where they eventually finished fourth. In the last edition of the tournament in Rosario, Argentina India had finished a disappointing eighth.
Having come second best in their last two meetings, it would be quite a task for the Indians to beat Ireland. The Irish have been in ominous form having topped Pool B ahead of higher-ranked USA and India. World No.16 Ireland has already scripted history of sorts by outclassing USA 3-1 and India 1-0 before slumping to a 0-1 defeat against hosts England. But they still managed to secure their maiden World Cup quarterfinal berth.
India, on the other hand, had to slog it out to make it to the quarterfinals, having drawn 1-1 against England and USA respectively and losing 0-1 to Ireland. The Indians would take heart from the 3-0 win over lower-ranked Italy in the cross-over match. The Rani Rampal-led side re-discovered its scoring prowess to finally end Italy’s World Cup adventure through a field strike from Lalremsiami (20th minute) and two penalty corner goals from Neha Goyal (45th) and Vandana Katariya (55th) to register an emphatic win.
The Indians were brilliant with their first touch control and finishing last night and come tomorrow the side would look for an encore to outwit the gutsy Irish. But it won’t be easy as it is the same Irish side which beat them in the last two meetings — 2-1 in the Hockey World League Semi-finals in Johannesburg last year and then here in the pool stages. The Irish would definitely come out as a confident unit but India would be banking on their new-found confidence.
The Indian defence led by talismanic Savita under the bar has produced a stellar performance throughout the tournament. It was the forward-line which was lacking the sting but last night’s performance would do a world of good for the strikers’ confidence. Skipper Rani feels India have gained confidence as the tournament has progressed and they would look to carry that forward going into the business end of the event.
“Early in the tournament, we didn’t do the one thing we needed to do – score goals. But we have found the net now and we can definitely push on with our journey. We do not see that journey ending tomorrow,” she said.
It promises to be an exciting encounter as Ireland have already proved that they are no pushovers and the outcome of the match will eventually depend on controlling the nerves at crucial stages. Meanwhile, in the other quarterfinal of the day, the mighty Netherlands will take on hosts England.