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Debut delight for India women in FIH Hockey Pro League, thrash China 7-1

The Indian women’s team made a great impact on its FIH Pro League debut on Monday, beating China 7-1 in a match played at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex here.

The Indian team, which has been invited to participate in this year’s FIH Pro League edition following the withdrawal of Australia and New Zealand, came up with a brilliant performance to get the better of the Chinese in the match played after the Women’s Asia Cup in which Savita’s team had bagged a bronze medal, beating the same opponents 2-0.

Relentless, talented, and speedy; India’s entry into the FIH Hockey Pro League was marked by a win that showed that Janneke Schopman and her team are more than ready for the challenges ahead in FIH Hockey Pro League.

It was a day of firsts in Muscat, Oman as the city hosted its first FIH Hockey Pro League match. The hockey-mad city had just played host to the 2022 Women’s Asia Cup and now two of the teams that had competed in that competition — India (FIH World Ranking:9) and China (WR:13) – came head-to-head in the opening FIH Hockey Pro League match of 2022.

For the Indian women, this was their first match in the FIH Hockey Pro League, following the withdrawal of Australia and New Zealand from the competition because of Covid-related travel restrictions. Ahead of the tournament head coach Janneke Schopman had spoken of the great opportunity the FIH Hockey Pro League offered her team, with the chance of regular, high-quality competition. And on Monday, the Indians showed they were ready for bigger challenges ahead in the event.

In another first for India as three goals were scored from penalty strokes, the most penalty strokes to be awarded and converted in a Hockey Pro League match.

India certainly hit the ground running. Two goals in the opening quarter were ample proof that the team was up for this challenge. In the fifth minute, Navneet Kaur smashed a shot past Wu Strong to give her side the lead. Just seven minutes later, a great save by skipper and goalkeeper Savita from a China penalty corner was turned to India’s advantage and the counterattack allowed Neha to double the lead.

For the first 30 minutes of play, the fast-moving sequence of passes and a willingness on the part of the players to take on defenders meant India, who narrowly missed a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics, were looking the stronger team.

In the second half, China began to raise their game to match the pace with which India had started the encounter. Unfortunately, China was unable to make the pressure count and India turned another counter-attack into a goal. This time it was Katariya Vandana who put the ball past Wu on the second attempt, after her first shot rebounded, a report on the FIH’s official website said.

Some slick movements and speedy passing saw China finally rewarded. The ball was moved swiftly up the pitch and Deng Xue was able to steer the ball goalwards and past Etimarpu Rajani, who had replaced Savita in the India goal.

Any hope China had that this goal might change the course of the game was dismissed when India won a penalty stroke in the 47th minute. Former captain Sushila Chanu made no mistake as she stepped up and put the ball into the corner of the China goal, the report said.

India’s next goal came from the stick of forwarding Sharmila Devi. A series of passes left the China defense stranded and Sharmila was able to turn the ball into the goal for India’s fifth goal.

A second penalty stroke was won by the India attack as the Chinese defense were just unable to get out of the way of the nimble stick work of Lalremsiami. Gurjit Kaur stepped up to calmly and precisely send the ball home.

With eight minutes left Sushila scored her second penalty stroke of the game making the final score 7-1.

Sharmila Devi was adjudged as Player of the Match. On receiving her award, the striker said: “I am very happy with that performance. We played very well and we are very excited to be playing in the FIH Hockey Pro league for the first time.”

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