Antwerp: The Indian women's hockey team kept its chances of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics alive as it finished fifth in the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final following a 1-0 victory over Japan here on Saturday.
Rani Rampal scored a brilliant field goal in the 13th minute and that proved to be the difference between the two teams in the fifth/sixth classification match at the Brasschaat Municipal Park on Friday.
Indian women team's hockey player Rani Rampal. Pic: AFP
India kept their dreams of qualifying for the Rio Games alive with this fifth place finish.
World hockey governing body, FIH, conducts two Semi-Final tournaments with each securing Rio berths for its top three teams. Winners from five continental games -- 2014 Asian Games, 2015 Pan American Games, 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship, 2015 African Qualifying Tournament and 2015 Oceania Cup -- also get Olympic berths.
However, some teams win both the continental championships as well as clinch berths in the qualifiers. So, they relinquish the berths they secure at the HWL Semi-Finals, which brightens India's chances of qualification.
Reigning Asiad champions South Korea have already qualified as continental champions. South Korea have already booked a place in the HWL final, securing another path to Rio. So, they will relinquish a spot for the fourth best team in HWL Semi-Finals.
Five continental champions and top six teams in the HWL Semi-Finals and most probably hosts Brazil will qualify for the Olympics.
On Saturday, India, who lost the quarter-final 0-7 to the Netherlands, began with positivity and earned a penalty corner within the first 30 seconds but failed to score.
Japan led by their skipper Miyuki Nakagawa and their star forward Akiko Kato tried to break into India's circle but were blocked by India's superb defence line.
Luck favoured India when Vandana Katariya with a burst of speed, broke into the opponent's 'D' from the left flank taking a shot at the goal and which on rebound was slammed in by Rani Rampal in the 13th minute, giving India the much required lead in the game.
Japan won their first penalty corner in the 20th minute but forward Miyuki Kato failed to equalise. Trailing 0-1, the third quarter saw Japan winning their third penalty corner in the 37th minute. Miyuki Kato and Yamamoto Yukari tried to level the score but were frustrated by Monika.
Keeping their lead intact at the end of the third quarter, India continued its dominance with 1-0 on the scoreboard. In the fourth quarter, Japan pushed forward trying constantly to create numerous opportunities to equalise the score line but the Indian defence stood tall as they ensured that the Japanese team had no chance to find the nets.
Japan got as many as four penalty corners but they were denied by Indian goalkeeper Savita, who displayed superb agility, giving India the 1-0 win.