Hockey: India have the last laugh

The India team celebrating after beating China 2-1 in the final of the Asian Women's Champions Trophy at Sengkang Hockey Stadium, ending a four-game losing streak to their rivals.
The India team celebrating after beating China 2-1 in the final of the Asian Women's Champions Trophy at Sengkang Hockey Stadium, ending a four-game losing streak to their rivals.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Late goal goes their way this time in win over China for first Asian women's champs trophy

For the second time in as many nights, it needed a last-minute goal to separate Asian hockey powerhouses India and China.

But this time, it was the Indian players who celebrated wildly after the final buzzer while their counterparts agonised over what might have been, as India clinched a dramatic 2-1 win in yesterday's Women's Asian Champions Trophy final.

Not only did last night's win at the Sengkang Hockey Stadium end a four-game losing streak to China, it was sweet revenge for India who were defeated by hosts Japan in the final of the 2013 edition.

A maiden Asian Champions Trophy title did not come easy for the world No. 12 team.

Forward Deepika Thakur's powerful reverse shot that flew into the roof of the net with 17 seconds left was initially ruled out by the umpire for alleged dangerous play but it was eventually upheld. The 500-strong crowd, mostly India supporters, roared their approval.

Even cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar later tweeted his congratulations to the women's hockey team.

The 29-year-old Deepika, who has made more than a hundred appearances and scored some crucial goals, said: "That was the most important goal I've ever scored. It's an amazing feeling to win this trophy and also to beat China, who we've lost to many times."

The most recent clash came during Friday's round-robin game, as China scored in the dying minutes to win 3-2. That result served as fuel for her and her team-mates, said India captain Vandana Katariya.

"We played very well tonight and deserved to win. Everyone was more motivated and we didn't want to waste this second chance."

Unlike that game that saw China open up a two-goal lead, India started brightly and scored in the 13th minute from a well-worked penalty corner that ended with defender Deep Grace Ekka's fierce hit past opposing goalkeeper Yu Yaran.

This was a developmental Chinese squad - China are world No. 8 - but there was still quality in the team and they came forward in waves in the second half. The relentless pressure was rewarded in the 44th minute, when Zhong Mengling latched onto a loose ball and equalised from close range.

Coach Weng Haiqin said: "This is a very young team so to finish second is a good result for us."

Nothing less than gold was on India coach Neil Hawgood's mind as he urged his players forward in the final 15 minutes.

Gold medals and trophy collected, the Indian team swopped their hockey sticks for wefie sticks and posed for pictures with each other.

Under the Australian's charge, India's women had qualified for the Rio Olympics. It was their first appearance at the Summer Games since 1980. He said: "That was a huge achievement and now to win this tournament, that's another big step. Hopefully it will inspire girls around the country to pick up the game and we can build something special for the future."

In the earlier third-place play-off, Japan beat South Korea 2-1. Malaysia finished last.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 06, 2016, with the headline 'India have the last laugh'. Print Edition | Subscribe