Indian women one win away from presenting Olympic credentials
Indian women go into Saturday's hockey encounter with Japan in the World League Semifinals with the focus on enhancing their claim for Olympic qualification after a gap of 36 years.
Antwerp: Indian women go into Saturday's hockey encounter with Japan in the World League Semifinals with the focus on enhancing their claim for Olympic qualification after a gap of 36 years.
India are eager to cover most angles in the qualification race by winning this playoff for the fifth position against Japan which they reckon should get them into the Olympic Games for the first time since Moscow in 1980.
"We want to cover all angles when the countdown to Olympic qualification comes to teams that have not made the top four grade at the two World League Semifinals," said Indian coach Mathias Ahrens, who wants his wards to be hungrier in converting goal-scoring opportunities.
Three spots each are on offer at both the World League Semifinal competitions ? here at Antwerp and in the just-concluded event at Valencia.
With five continental event champions being allowed another route, there are likely to be several dual qualifications. In turn, that can open up Olympic spots for nations which do not make the top four of the two World League Semifinals.
Germany, Great Britain and China have secured the three Olympic berths from the World League Semifinals in Valencia.
World Cup silver medalists Argentina missed the initial cut when they lost the bronze medal match and finished fourth, but with South Korea advancing to the final at Antwerp, the Argentines could get a qualifying spot soon.
The United States, who finished fifth in Valencia, also have a chance to earn direct qualification from the Pan American Games before the countdown starts among lower-ranked teams of the World League Semifinals.
Three teams here at Antwerp will secure their Rio de Janeiro tickets, but South Korea have already earned an Olympic slot by winning the Asian Games gold medal.
An African champion could be the only one not to have featured among the top four teams at these two World League Semifinals, opening up more places, even if Olympic hosts Brazil are given a leeway to make the grade.
Both in the men and women's events, Brazil have been allowed a leeway of making the Olympics if they can achieve the fifth place in the Pan American Games. In the women's event, Brazil are only a reserve team in case there are any withdrawals from the Pan American Games that start in Canada in two weeks.
Effectively, this means that even a loss to Japan could take the Indian eves to Rio de Janeiro, because the sixth-paced team in the other World League Semifinals is Spain. Spain's No. 15 position in world rankings is two places behind India, but the wait could be pensive.
When the choice is made between two teams in similar position at different hockey events, the world ranking of the two nations is taken into consideration.
"We should not lose focus of the fifth place finish here.
For that to happen, we must sort out the shortcoming in scoring more goals," said Ahrens after India clinched a nail-biting 1-0 sudden death victory over Italy in the first playoff.
Going into the playoff for the fifth place, India are drawing confidence from their victory over Japan in the bronze medal game of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon last October.
India yesterday muffed scoring plenty of scoring chances before the issue was settled in sudden death. The game was tied 1-1 in regulation period and the shootout saw both teams scoring four goals each.
Japan too came through their first playoff, against hosts Belgium, through a 4-2 victory in the shootout, the feature of which were the number of referrals by either team. The Japan-Belgium match was also 1-1 level at the end of regulation period.
"Both teams are familiar with the style and strengths of each other," said Ahrens, who only joined the Indian team as coach in May.
"Scoring goals is not a new topic in this sport. We are doing everything except score goals. I am pleased at the manner in which the girls held their own.
"Against Italy, we should have scored more often after dominating the match throughout. It became very tense in the end and I'm glad that the girls kept their nerves. They could also have done with a bit more patience inside the rival circle."
"In our sport, you relax to score the goals. With the sort of dominance we had, the issue should not have gone to the shootout," he said.