Relentless, talented and speedy; India’s entry into the FIH Hockey Pro League was marked by an excellent performance and a 7-1 win that showed that Janneke Schopman and her team are more than ready for the challenges of 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 China, this match was a chance to turn around the result of the teams’ encounter in the third place match at the 2022 Women’s Asia Cup where they had lost 2-0 to India.
For India women, this was its 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.
In a third ‘first’, India’s three goals scored from penalty strokes are the most penalty strokes to be awarded and converted in one FIH 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 Surong to give her side the lead. Just seven minutes later, a great save by Savita from a China penalty corner was turned to India’s advantage and the counter attack afforded Neha the opportunity 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 were looking the stronger team.
In the second half, China began to raise its 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.
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 goalward 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 banished when India won a penalty stroke in the 47th minute. Sushila Chanu made no mistake as she stepped in and put the ball into the corner of the Chinese goal.
India’s next goal came from the stick of Sharmila Devi. A series of passes left the China defence 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 defence was just unable to get out of the way of the nimble stick work of Lalremsiami. Gurjit Kaur stepped in 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.
The Player of the Match was awarded to Sharmila Devi. 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.’