India stay alive after narrow loss to New Zealand; what's next?

India stay alive after narrow loss to New Zealand; what’s next?

In the end, the numbers told the story of the match between India and New Zealand at the Women’s Hockey World Cup. India earned 15 penalty corners but converted just one. New Zealand scored three goals from five penalty corners. India had 11 shots on goal, compared to New Zealand’s five. India penetrated the circle 28 times, 14 more than New Zealand.

India lost the match 3-4 to a side which was more clinical and efficient. But Savita Punia and Co stay alive in the World Cup to play at least one more match in the crossover stage. India finished third in their Pool (two points) above China (also two points) because they had a better goal difference (India: -1, China: -2). New Zealand qualified directly to the quarterfinals with seven points from three matches. England ended up taking the second spot with four points.

Disappointment and tears

As the teams were regrouping after an intense match of hockey, the camera panned to show the faces of Indian players. Monika Malik, Udita and captain Savita Punia were left with tears while head coach Janekke Schopman’s disappointment was evident on her face. After the high of the Olympics, this team wanted to replicate the success in the World Cup. They have a good team; they play the modern attacking brand of hockey and they finished third in the recent Pro League season. But on Friday, their hopes and ambitions came close to crashing down.

It was the final game of Pool B and India had the chance of making it to the quarterfinals by beating New Zealand. They started on a strong note, with a superb goal from Vandana Katariya in the fourth minute. In their previous match against China, India didn’t do well with the final passes despite winning the ball in the midfield. This wasn’t the case against New Zealand. Neha Goyal got the ball in the attacking third, she gave it to Lalremsiami inside the D who quickly passed it for Vandana to score via a well-timed dive and a deflection.

India’s second goal (when they were trailing 1-3) was also a result of a superb defence-splitting pass from Sushila Chanu, which was excellently deflected into the goal by Lalremsiami.

The problem here was that New Zealand didn’t have to put relentless pressure to score goals. All they needed was one good chance or one small mistake to punish their opponents. They made it 1-1 from their first penalty corner. Olivia Merry’s low shot took a deflection off Savita Punia’s pads to go into the goal. Udita’s mistake of losing the ball inside the circle led to Tessa Jopp scoring the second goal for New Zealand. They made it 3-1 in the third quarter when Frances Davies converted off a deflection from a penalty corner. Another penalty corner resulted in the fourth goal for New Zealand, this time Savita getting her glove on the ball but not enough to keep it out.

This is New Zealand’s forte. England dominated them in their previous match and scored early, but eventually lost 3-1. They had 14 penalty corners and 34 circle entries but just couldn’t find enough goals while New Zealand didn’t waste their chances.

Why are India failing to convert their penalty corner chances?

No doubt this is an area of concern. A better conversion rate would’ve made a significant difference in terms of results, but the fact remains that India faced two really good teams – China and New Zealand – when it comes to penalty corner defence. Schopman spoke of China’s defence in the previous match and New Zealand frustrated England before doing the same to India. What also hurt India against New Zealand was that they couldn’t execute their variations.

What’s next for India?

Spain finished second in Pool C so India will face them on Sunday for a place in the quarterfinal. Spain will have the added advantage of playing in front of their home crowd as the match will take place at the Estadi Olímpic de Terrassa. The winner of this match will face Australia on July 13.

India haven’t won any matches yet but the format for the tournament is such that they still have an opportunity to go all the way. India now have the experience of playing three really tough matches and they didn’t deviate from their brand of attacking hockey in all three games. A good game in terms of penalty corners conversion could see them past Spain. And we know what happened when India faced Australia last time in a quarterfinal of a big tournament.

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