Gold Coast, Apr 10 (PTI) Skipper Rani Rampal’s strike in the fourth quarter steered India to the semifinals of the women’s hockey event at the 21st Commonwealth Games as they beat South Africa 1-0, here today.
India only required a draw to progress to the last-four stage as they already had six points from three matches before they faced South Africa. India qualified as the second- placed team from Pool A behind England, who topped by virtue of better goal difference.
The match-winner was scored in the fourth quarter after Navneet Kaur initiated an attack from the wide left with a forward pass for Vandana Katariya. Rani trapped Vandana’s assist and turned to take a crack, leaving the South African custodian clueless.
The South Africans tried to make a comeback to the match but a strong defensive shape saw India sustain their lead till the final hooter.
“As a captain, I tell my team to believe in themselves and keep encouraging my team. In 2002, we won gold in women’s hockey and this year, I want to bring the gold back to my country,” skipper Rani said after the match.
On their potential face-off with Australia in the semi-finals on Thursday, Rani said:”It’s exciting to play against the host nation. The whole crowd will be cheering for them. I need to thank our supporters in the last three games and we need to think positive and play strong.” The first quarter started with both teams creating opportunities but neither was able to make the most of their chances. It was South Africa’s Jade Mayne who had a great chance to give her team the lead in the 10th minute when she found herself in front of India’s goal but a weak shot saw Indian goalkeeper Savita effect a comfortable save.
Two minutes later, Vandana made a darting run inside the striking circle towards the base-line, and slid the ball onto a South African foot to win her team a penalty corner. But Rani’s shot from the resulting drag-flick was parried by South African goalkeeper Phumelela Mbande, and the rebound was struck over the cross-bar by Vandana.
In the 13th minute, the South Africans were also awarded a penalty corner but Savita made a save on her right to deny Lisa-Marie Deetlefs.
India’s chief coach Harendra Singh praised his players for making a good comeback after losing the first match against Wales.
It was a difficult moment for us when we lost our first match against Wales but the girls did not lose their composure and focus. They stuck together and took responsibility to perform for their nation which proved to be the key to their success in the last three matches.
“It was a tough match today against a strong team but the girls made the right choices and I am extremely proud of their performance.” Singh also spoke about the prospects of playing either New Zealand or hosts Australia in the semi-final of the competition.
“We know it can be a difficult match against either of the two sides but our goal is to do well in each match, and approach the next one like any other match. It is the first time we have qualified for the semi-final since 2006, therefore it is a huge chance for us to capitalise on this opportunity,” said Singh.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.