India women hockey team punched their ticket for the Tokyo Olympics next year with a 6-5 aggregate win over USA across two-legged FIH qualifier that concluded in Bhubaneswar on Saturday. India suffered a 1-4 defeat in the second leg on Saturday after a dominating 5-1 win in the first tie on Friday.

Sjored Marijine, the head coach, is a happy man with the result though saying the preparation for the Olympics start from Sunday. “We have a dream and the dream is to go to the Olympics, and the most beautiful colour in the Olympics is gold. Our preparation for the Olympics starts tomorrow morning,” the Marijine said after the match.

However, the Dutchman was critical of the way the team performed during the second match. “The first half, I was like what is going on here, and we really reacted. I was watching with the conditioning coach, like what is going on. There were so many things that were going wrong,” he said.

He continued, “At half-time I told the girls, it’s 0-0. It’s your moment, go with your heads up. There’s pressure on the girls. The only thing you can do on the pitch is run. Because if you are running, you are not thinking about winning or losing. I had to take pressure off the girls. We had to put USA under pressure and make them commit mistakes.”

India were thoroughly outplayed in the first two quarters with the USA taking a commanding 4-0 lead, having levelled the aggregate to 5-all. However, following Marijine’s first-half talk, the Indian team responded well, defending well while pulling one goal back which was enough for them to edge past their opponents to qualify.

“We all can see, we played well in one half. But now we have to do it for the entire match. But I am proud of the fighting spirit of the girls,” he added.

India captain Rani Rampal struck the decisive goal in the 48th minute.  “A lot of players, especially for youngsters it was the first opportunity. Throughout the game, I never thought it would end our careers, because we have worked a lot for these matches. I knew we can do anything till the last minute. I know we should have done it from the first quarter. We converted our chances yesterday, they converted today. Trailing 0-4, you need to work harder. I think the girls put in a lot of energy till the last moment,” Rani said.

USA coach Janneke Schopman was “devastated” and also critical of the umpiring. “We are devastated. The girls are heartbroken. They gave their heart and soul on the pitch today but we were unlucky,” she said.

Schopman was also critical of the umpiring after Alyssa Manley was handed a yellow card in the 47th minute following which India slotted home the decider. “It was not a yellow card, for that matter not a green card. That decision cost us and India scored that goal,” she said.