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USA, Germany book Olympic tickets, set up summit clash

Image used for representative purpose only
| Photo Credit: Reuters

Standing teary in the middle of the field with fellow goalkeeper Bichu Devi, India captain Savita cut a forlorn figure as Germany booked a spot in the final of the Olympic Qualifiers and a ticket to Paris with a 4-3 win in sudden death after being tied 2-2 in regulation time in the semifinals.

The Indians had started as underdogs against a team that has made it to every Olympics since its debut in 1984 with everything including track record and rankings against the host. But despite stretching their fancied opponents all the way, India will now play Japan in yet another must-win game for the third place and the last remaining Olympic spot here after USA won 2-1 in the other semifinal.

While the numbers might say India had more possession, Germany dominated on field. India was on the backfoot for large periods, conceding a penalty corner in the very first minute that was overturned on referral. But the speed and attacking play seen in the last two games was missing. A PC in the last minute of the 1st quarter saw Deepika strike through Julia Sontag’s legs to put India ahead but thereafter, instead of building on it, the Indian team went defensive, allowing Germany space to keep pressing hard.

For the next 30 minutes, the game was largely restricted to India’s half as Germany kept pushing for an equaliser. India’s defence stood firm against a German side that barely allowed breathing space. Relying on free hits and individual skills to move ahead, the Indian attack did not have the cohesion or penetration seen before. Salima’s runs were curtailed and while Lalremsiami and Baljeet Kaur tried to open the gaps on the right and Deepika and Sangita did the same on the left, the German defence stood firm.

But the Indian defence that braved repeated German attacks was guilty of conceding both the goals Germany scored, failing to mark Charlotte Stapenhorst inside the circle and not providing enough back-up to Savita. The second of those came in the 57th minute but just when it looked like the game was all but over, Ishika managed to deflect a rebound off India’s 3rd PC in the 59th minute to take the game into shootouts.

It looked going India’s way with Sangita and Sonika scoring and Savita saving two of Germany’s first three shots. But India’s two most experienced players in the shootout – Neha and Navneet – hurried and missed their chances, taking the game into sudden death before Lisa Nolte struck her second of the night to end India’s hopes.

Earlier in the day, for 50 minutes, Japan seemed to have the game and a final spot in its control before a yellow card to Chico Fujibayashi in the 52nd minute gave USA the numerical advantage and it made the most of it, scoring twice in three minutes to stun the Japanese and return to the Olympcis after missing out in 2020. In the classification matches for the 5-8 place, Czech Republic held firm for 57 minutes before New Zelaand got two goals in three minutes for a 2-0 win while Italy fought back from being a goal down to level with Chile and then win in shootouts.

The results: Semifinals: USA 2 (Ashley Hoffman, Abigail Tamer) bt Japan 1 (Amiru Shimada); Germany 2 (Charlotte Stapenhorst 2) bt India 2 (Deepika, Ishika) in shootouts; 5-8 place: Italy 2 (Antonella Bruni, Federica Carta) bt Chile 2 (Francisca Tala, Paula Valdivia) on penalties; New Zealand 2 (Samantha Child, Katie Doar) bt Czech Republic 0.

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