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BHUBANESWAR, India – November 1, 2019 – Preparation and nerves aside, the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifier is the final stage to secure a ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In the first of the two-game series between No. 13 U.S. Women’s National Team and No. 9 India it was a tale of two halves. USA was the better team in the first half but saw several scoring opportunities go unanswered. The red, white and blue found themselves trailing after India tallied four goals in an 11-minute span on their way to a 5-1 win.
“I think in the first half we possessed the ball quite well,” said Kathleen Sharkey (Moosic, Pa.), USWNT Captain. “We used a lot of middle field to build up the ball and we used the simple pass. Unfortunately, I think in the second half we started moving away from that.”
The opening quarter saw USA with the upper hand in advantages but had many scoring opportunities go unfinished. The first close chance came in the 6th minute when Amanda Magadan (Randolph, N.J.) earned a free hit in the right corner. She took it quickly and found Sharkey at the top of the circle whose push toward the far post trickled wide. Next, Erin Matson (Chadds Ford, Pa.) picked it up in the middle the field and sent it outside on the right to Alyssa Parker (Woodbine, Md.) who drove hard but her shot went wide. Shortly following Matson sent a long ball into the circle that went through traffic that was touched by Linnea Gonzales (Bel Air, Md.) and went through the legs of India’s goalkeeper Savita. USA continued to show moments of dominance using quick passing combinations to get it upfield as the first 15 minutes wound down.
At the start of the second frame, India came out strong to take it into their attacking end. A close chance came for the Eves after a run down the left side finished with the ball getting through USA’s defense and Sharmila Devi’s shot going over the end line. India followed up with another chance but good collective defense from Matson and Casey Umstead (Green Lane, Pa.) gave possession back to USA. In the 21st minute, Sharkey won control and Lauren Moyer (York, Pa.) used quick stick skill to get into the circle but her reverse shot was saved by Savita. Almost immediately following, India took it the other way through captain Rani and earned the first penalty corner of the game. The drag by Gurjit Kaur was kicked away by USA goalkeeper Kelsey Bing (Houston, Texas). The red, white and blue immediately countered and earned their first penalty corner. Unsuccessful on the attempt, USA continued to threaten and attack the circle. In the 27th minute, USA had another solid look when Sharkey worked it through Parker and Danielle Grega (Kingston, Pa.) but was unable to convert at close range. Sharkey persisted and was awarded a penalty corner, but the slip sweep to Ali Froede (Burke, Va.) went wide. With 2 minutes remaining in the half, India took a free hit quickly, got on the front foot and Vandana Katriya had two shots, the first saved by Bing and the second earned the Eves back-to-back penalty corners. India capitalized on the second penalty corner after a breakdown on the top led to Lilima Minz finishing wide open on the far post to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
The third quarter was when control and opportunities shifted to the hands of India. Four penalty corners were earned by the Eves, and they were able to tally three more goals within the span of 6 minutes. The first came in the 40th minute after a penalty corner chance was saved off the glove of a diving Bing. India then regained possession after a USA free hit was taken away, drove the baseline and a cross was finished by Devi. Two minutes later off a penalty corner, the Eves extend the lead to 3-0 when G. Kaur’s drag went just off the inside kicker of Bing.
With momentum on their side, India pushed into the final quarter with a chip on their shoulders and in the 42nd minute Navneet Kaur added her name to the score sheet off a blast from the top. It took until 10 minutes remaining in the match for USA to find some offense through an earned penalty corner. That surge was quickly deflated when Rani found Monika on the right, who drove into the circle and was fouled hard by Margaux Paolino (Villanova, Pa.) giving India a penalty stroke, where G. Kaur successfully converted her second goal of the match. USA continued to push forward even though they trailed 5-0. In the 54th minute, Parker won possession on the attacking-25 and passed it ahead to Grega, who then weaved between two India defenders and earned USA a penalty stroke. Matson stepped up to cut the goal deficit, and the red, white and blue continued to apply offensive pressure. A final USA penalty corner in the 58th minute went unrewarded as India used a commanding four-goal advantage to take the first of the two-game series, 5-1.
Following the conclusion of the game, India’s captain Rani was named Player of the Match.
“It is obviously a challenge being down four goals,” commented Sharkey on how difficult it will be to reach that four-goal margin. “But in my eyes it is just halftime right now and we are anxious to play tomorrow. It only takes one second to score a goal so we will prepare tonight and be ready to bring it tomorrow.”
“Five-one is obviously a big score,” said Janneke Schopman, USWNT Head Coach. “I think the fact that we scored the one makes it more of a doable challenge. The key is to score the opportunities you get. I think we had enough opportunities and penalty corners today to score more than one goal. If we can produce the same opportunities, and hopefully create outcomes, we will see tomorrow if that is enough or not.”
A reminder of how the two-match system works:
The winners will be determined as follows: teams will be ranked according to the number of points each has accumulated in both matches (for each match, 3 points are awarded to the winner, 1 point to each team in the event of a draw and 0 point to the loser). If there is equality among the two teams, then the teams will be ranked according to their respective goal difference. If the equality remains, a shoot-out competition will be played to establish the winner.
The U.S. Women’s National Team’s second FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifier game against India tomorrow, November 2, will be live streamed on Bleacher Report (B/R) Live pay-per-view. Replays of the first match will be made available 1-hour following the conclusion of the game.
For more information about the FIH Olympic Qualifier, visit the official event page by clicking here.
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