Indian women's hockey team on Saturday secured their place in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers 2019 after defeating Chile 4-2 in the semi-finals of the FIH Women's Series Finals at the Hiroshima Hockey Stadium.
India came from a goal down to secure the win as Gurjit Kaur scored a brace, while Navneet Kaur and captain Rani Rampal scored fantastic individual goals to give their side an emphatic victory.
A well-contested match between the two sides saw the world number nine India start the match on the front foot as they made a total of six circle entries inside the first 15 minutes, creating opportunities to take five shots at the Chilean goal. However, the world number 16 side also managed to get into the Indian striking circle four times but failed to find a shot on target.
Both the teams failed to open the scoring in the initial quarter, which was dominated by the Indian team as they had the better chances.
The start of the second quarter was not a good one for India as they conceded the opening goal in the 18th minute when Chile played on the counter-attack. While India were trying to create an opportunity in the Chilean half, their defense cleared the ball into India's half, which was then picked up by Consuelo de las Heras.
The midfielder drove into the Indian striking circle and passed the ball across goal, and it was Carolina Garcia who scored an easy tap-in as the Indian defense failed to clear the ball.
With the pressure now on the higher ranked team, India finally utilised their chance in the 22nd minute when Gurjit Kaur scored from a well-struck drag-flick which beat the Chilean goalkeeper on her left side. The ball flew into the top right corner of the goal, giving India their equalizer. The two teams went into the half-time break level at a goal apiece.
India resumed play in the third quarter smartly as they won back possession from the push-back, and it was forward Navneet Kaur who picked up the ball just outside the 25-yard circle, and made a darting run into the striking circle, taking a shot at shot, which was deflected off a Chilean player into the back of the net.
The goal in the 31st minute gave the Indian team a lift which saw them trouble the world number 16 side on several occasions. It was in the 37th minute that India were awarded another penalty corner as the ball hit a Chilean defender inside their striking circle.
India's talismanic drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur stepped up yet again to put the ball into the top-right corner to extend India's lead to 3-1. However, the victory for India was not as comfortable as Chile won themselves two penalty corners towards the later stages of the third quarter, however, could not utilize the chances.
In the 43rd minute though, a poor clearance from the Indian defense saw Chile regain possession and it was Denise Krimerman who made a great run from outside the 25-yard line, and played a ball across goal from near the left baseline, which was deflected into the back of the net by Manuela Urroz to cut the deficit to 3-2.
However, India rotated the ball well in the last quarter, not giving the Chilean attack many sniffs at their goal. The world number 16 team did have a few opportunities in the last quarter but could not create any clear-cut chances. India, on the other hand, created some great opportunities to extend their lead with a total of seven circle entries in the last 15 minutes.
With just three minutes remaining on the clock, the Indian team went for the kill when Lilima Minz found Rani inside the striking circle, and the Indian captain made a great turn and hit a shot off the reverse stick to beat the Chilean goalkeeper and give India a well-deserved 4-2 win in the semi-final.
India will next face the winner of the other semi-final between Russia and Japan, in the final of the FIH Women's Series Finals on June 23.