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Hockey: Olympic dream shattered for India women

After coming close to a bronze medal in Tokyo 2020, India women fail to qualify for Paris as they lose to Japan 0-1

Screenshot 2024 01 20 092014RANCHI: A while after the final hooter of the bronze medal fixture between India and Japan, the DJ at the Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Astro Turf Hockey Stadium in Ranchi played a Bon Jovi hit – It’s My Life. “It’s my life, it’s now or never. I ain’t gonna live forever. I just want to live while I’m alive,” the lyrics echoed around the stadium. That is what it was for India. A last chance to make it to the Olympics after a dream run in Tokyo 2020, but Japan booked their tickets to Paris 2024 — with a 0-1 win — as they have done for every Olympics since Athens 2004.

Both teams bruised from their losses in the semi-final — Japan conceded two late goals against the USA to miss their chance and India scored two to remain in the contest but failed in the penalty shootouts — faced each other with loud support for the hosts. “Scoring first will be helpful, that will keep the crowd quiet,” Japan’s coach and former Indian goalkeeper Jude Menezes declared before the start of the game and that is exactly what his team did. After missing the first penalty corner, Kana Urata converted a penalty into Japan’s first goal via a drag flick. India’s defense looked more vulnerable compared to their display in the semi-final, and Japan took full advantage of it to make their mark in the first quarter.

What followed was that defensive masterclass from the Cherry Blossoms. Even when India upped the ante in the second quarter and showed the urgency to score while deploying their strategy of quick passes, Japan gave no chance. Even when India went past some of the defenders, Japan’s goalkeeper stood up like a wall between India and an equalizer. In the second quarter, Lalremsiami created chances like she did against Germany, but India missed their chances repeatedly. India did find some magic via Salima Tete as she found her momentum which was cut short in the semi-final, but nothing changed.

The USA, in their semi-final, showed that they could make a comeback against Japan as they scored two late goals to book their ticket. Japan learned from their mistakes overnight and kept attacking and did not give India any chance in the third quarter. Despite making multiple mistakes in the third quarter that resulted in four penalty corners, there was not a single goal to show.

In the final quarter with everything on the line, Japanese goalkeeper Akio Tanaka raised her game to a new level where she defended every single attempt from the Indian attack and took the Olympics dream away from the crowd favourites. What started as a day with poor defense for India ended up with a masterclass in the same department from their opponents.

After conceding a goal that early, India had to chase the game all through the run time. And Japan once again proved that they might not score a lot of goals, but they conceded even less and that is what helped them book tickets to Paris.

Sport is a great equaliser. At this very venue a few months ago, India were on the top of the world, when they beat the same team to win the Asian Champions Trophy. The ground DJ was probably trying to be cheeky when he followed Bon Jovi with The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘I Gotta Feeling’ as the disappointed crowd was still hanging around for the gold medal clash between Germany and the USA. “I got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night. That tonight’s gonna be a good night. That tonight’s gonna be a good, good night. A feelin’,” will.i.am (William Adams) and Fergie (Stacy Ferguson) were singing. And it was a cruel reality that it was a good night for every other team in the knockouts, except India.

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