Antwerp (Belgium): India kept their Olympic qualification dreams alive by beating lower-ranked Italy in the shoot-out in a classification match of the women's Hockey World League Semifinals at the KHC Dragons Stadium, here on Thursday.
The Indian hockey eves, ranked 13 in the world, prevailed 5-4 over world rank 16 Italy in the shoot-out of the first play-off match for the fifth to eighth positions, after both the teams were locked at 1-1 at the end of the regulation 60 minutes.
India failed to capitalise on numerous opportunities during the regulation time. The ensuing shoot-out also failed to break the deadlock as both the teams scored four times each from their five shots and the contest went to sudden-death.
Taking the first try in sudden-death, Rani Rampal shot on target before goalkeeper Savita brought off a fine save against Giuliana Ruggieri to spark celebrations in the Indian camp.
Rani Rampal had earlier scored the equaliser for India in the 33rd minute after Italy opened the scoring against the run of play in the ninth minute of the contest.
In the shoot-out, experienced striker Vandana Katariya muffed her attempt while Navjot Kaur, Anuradha Thokchom, Rani Rampal and Deepika scored for India. For Italy, Valentina Braconi, Marcela Casale, Guiliana Ruggieri and Chiara Tiddi shot on target but Dalila Mirabella was denied by the Indian custodian.
The victory takes India into the play-off for the fifth and sixth spot on Saturday, where they will face the winner of the another classification contest between hosts Belgium and Japan.
Three Olympic spots are on offer in this tournament, but even some teams not advancing to the semifinals are likely to qualify as five continental champions might have already books a ticket to Rio de Janeiro.
India's only previous appearance in the women's hockey tournament of the Olympics was in 1980. India were the dominant side from the beginning against Italy, but failed to make it count. Repeated circle penetrations were of no use as the strikers could not produce a goal-bearing shot in the often crowded circle.
Occasionally the crosses could not be trapped in the goalmouth with the defenders beaten. The story of missed chances began in the third minute itself when Katariya's reverse shot from the top of the circle was padded away by the Italia goalkeeper as others failed to get a stick to the ball.
Continuing to build pressure, India were thwarted again in the sixth minute when the Italians held on in a goalmouth scrimmage. At this stage, 10 Indian players were in the rival territory.
Italy opened the scoring against the run of play in the ninth minute, catching the Indian defence off-guard with a quick switchover. Two unmarked Italian players were standing next to goalkeeper Savita when she blocked a long-range shot into the circle and the rebound was swept into the board by Elisabetta Pacella.
Despite Italy taking the lead, the Indians continued to dominate but their circle penetrations were not rewarded with a goal. India muffed a 29th minute penalty corner as the ball could not be stopped and Italy went into halftime leading 1-0.
India equalised three minutes into the second half when Rani Rampal picked up a ball that Italian captain Tiddi failed to connect. Rani capitalised on the opening by moving to the right to get away from another defender and beat goalkeeper Martina Chirico with a deft shot into the board.
Then the Italian goalkeeper made a good diving save to her right on India's second penalty corner in the 37th minute. At the other end, Italy's lone penalty corner of the match did not pose any threat as Namita Toppo rushed out to block the drive in the 45th minute.
Rani Rampal could have scored the match-winner for India on two occasions in the last quarter of the encounter, but she failed to have a shy in the crowded circle.