HWL: Rio dream still alive as Indian eves face Italy in play-offs

A day after being thrashed 0-7 by top-ranked The Netherlands, India are still nurturing the Olympic qualification dream as they brace for a play-off fixture against lowly Italy in the women's Hockey World League Semifinals, here tomorrow.

PTI| Updated: Jul 01, 2015, 13:36 PM IST
HWL: Rio dream still alive as Indian eves face Italy in play-offs

Antwerp (Belgium): A day after being thrashed 0-7 by top-ranked The Netherlands, India are still nurturing the Olympic qualification dream as they brace for a play-off fixture against lowly Italy in the women's Hockey World League Semifinals, here tomorrow.

For the Rio Olympic dream to sustain, India will have to come out victorious in tomorrow's 5-8 position classification match against Italy, who showed their mettle in the quarterfinal encounter with Australia.

With the Olympic qualification berths likely to filter beyond the semifinalists, India are eager to put up an improved show in the play-offs for the fifth to eight spots.

Reigniting the players' self-belief would be the prime task for the team management following the 0-7 loss to reigning World and Olympic champions The Netherlands, who were a street ahead of the Indians in quality.

The Indian girls would be looking to plug gaps in their defence as they go into the game against the fast-improving Italian team, placed three spots behind India's No. 13 world ranking.

The Italians will be inspired by their show against World Cup silver medalists Australia. Only two penalty corner conversions, one in each half, separated Australia from minnows Italy.

Italy are no mean opponents and the Indian girls realised this when they lost a five-Test series in December. Italy won two Tests, India won one and two others ended in draws.

"Italy would be the opposition you look for such a game," said Indian women's hockey team chief coach Mathias Ahrens, hoping his wards would be able to turn the tide after being at the receiving end in successive matches against Australia and The Netherlands.

"But the Italians are a very good side and their ability has been on view at this tournament," said Ahrens.

"The qualifying dream is still alive. The girls wanted so much going into the contest against The Netherlands. It may not have been realistic, but I do understand that from the girls' perspective," said Ahrens.

"There is always a lot at stake for the Indian players."

Ahrens feels the Indian eves built pressure upon themselves when they fail to play their game of making quick switches through short passes.

"Whenever the Indian players have hung on to the ball, they have erred," he said.

"Against Italy, we must not lose the ball in our own territory as that has been building additional pressure on us," the coach said.

"We have a lot of strengths, but mental toughness is not one of those," said Ahrens.

"The Dutch girls were a different class of opposition, but we were also at the receiving end of too many penalty corners being awarded against us without much cause."

The Indian team management was also concerned about the injury sustained by key striker Rani Rampal during against The Netherlands yesterday. She has got three stitches above her right eye, but is expected to turn out against Italy tomorrow.

The injury that caused her to leave the field midway in the second session was from a Dutch player's stick, but the rival player did not even get a card for the rough tackle.

The window for Olympic qualification remained wide open after Belgium blew away their chance of entering the semifinals last night.

Belgium's defenders erred to concede an equaliser to South Korea 35 seconds from the hooter in the quarterfinal, which ended 2-2 at the end of regulation period.

In the ensuing penalty shootout, South Korea broke Belgians hearts by winning 3-0.

"It was just a little fault that proved costly," said Belgian ace Stephanie de Groof.

"Maybe, we were in Roi too early despite knowing that the game ends only after the last second. It is a massive disappointment, but we need to focus on the next match as we still have an Olympic ticket to win," she said.

South Korea have already qualified for the Olympic Games by virtue of clinching the Asian Games gold medal.

The Koreans may have done India a big favour with their last minute equaliser, but the Indian eves need to strike winning form to make the Olympic grade for the first time since their only appearance at Moscow in 1980.