Tokyo: A brave Indian women’s hockey team put up a gritty performance but it was not enough to secure a maiden Olympic final berth as it lost 1-2 to world no.2 Argentina in a hard-fought semifinal of the ongoing Games here on Wednesday.
India still have a chance to win the bronze medal as they will take on Great Britain in the third-fourth place play-off match on Friday.
The Indians fought valiantly and gave Argentina a run for their money by taking the lead in the second minute through a penalty corner conversion by Gurjit Kaur.
But the Las Leonas bounced back strongly with skipper Maria Barrionuevo’s (18th, 36th minutes) twin strikes from penalty corners to secure the hard-fought win.
The bunch of 18 fearless and determined Indian women had already done the unthinkable when they stunned three-time champions Australia 1-0 on Monday to enter the Olympic semifinals for the first time.
Coming into the match, the odds were totally against India but the side led by talismanic Rani Rampal and coached by master tactician Sjoerd Marijne exceeded expectations.
India’s best performance in the Olympics came way back in the 1980 Moscow Games where they finished fourth out of six teams.
In that edition of the Games, women’s hockey made its debut in the Olympics and the sport was played in a round-robin format with top two teams qualifying for the final.
The Netherlands will play Argentina in the final on Friday.
Even though Argentina dominated in terms of possession, it was India who got the all-important lead.
Despite penetrating their opponent’s circle on numerous occasions, Argentina failed to create a clear cut chance in the first quarter as the Indians defended stoutly.
It was India who grabbed with both hands, the first opportunity that came their way.
India secured a penalty corner with their first circle penetration and it was perfectly converted by Gurjit with a powerful drag-flick to hand her side an unexpected lead.
Thereafter it was all Argentina, which exerted tremendous pressure on the Indian defence with relentless attacks but somehow India managed to keep the ball away from the net.
Most of Argentina’s attacks came from the left flank and they kept up the pressure on the Indian defence in the second quarter.
Minutes into the second quarter, Argentina secured two penalty corners in quick time, the second of which was converted by skipper Barrionuevo to level the scores.
India got two more penalty corners in the second quarter but wasted both.
Three minutes from half time, Argentina earned their fourth penalty corner of the match, again from an attack from the left flank, but this time the Indian defence was upto the task.
Argentina continued in the same vein after the change of ends and attacked the Indian goal, securing two more penalty corners soon and once again Barrionuevo was bang on target.
Barrionuevo’s flick crashed into the board after getting a deflection of Sushila Chanu’s legs as Argentina took a 2-1 lead.
The difference between the two sides was the battle in the mid-field which the Argentines won hands down.
The Indians were also guilty of sitting back and defending and not forcing the pace after taking the lead.
Trailing by a goal, the Indians showed intent in the fourth quarter and put the Argentine defence under pressure in search of the equaliser.
This is something which they needed to do after taking the lead.
India put continuous pressure in the last 15 minutes and secured their fourth and final penalty corner in the 51st minute but experienced Argentina goalkeeper Maria Succi made a brilliant save to deny Gurjit.
Seventeen seconds from the final hooter, Succi came to her side’s rescue again when she brilliantly kept out Navneet Kaur’s deflection from Udita’s hit from outside the circle.
The Indians immediately asked for a referral for dangerous ball but the TV umpire rejected it, breaking the hearts of the courageous lot, who can hold their heads high in pride.