Women’s FIH Pro League: India stun defending champions Netherlands

Neha and Sonika scored in India’s only second win against the Netherlands in 10 attempts and first in 48 years.

By Ali Asgar Nalwala

The Indian women’s hockey team handed defending champions the Netherlands their first defeat in the FIH Pro League 2021-22 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha on Friday.

Neha (10’) and Sonika (27’) scored for India. Navneet Kaur was declared the player of the match. It was also Kaur’s 100th cap for India. Defender Mahima Choudhary and forward Aishwarya Rajesh Chavan, meanwhile, made their debuts.

With this win, the FIH Pro League debutants India jumped to second place in the standings with 15 points from seven matches while the Netherlands remained on top with 18 points from seven matches.

It was the Indian women’s hockey team’s first victory over the European heavyweights since the 1974 Hockey World Cup in France and India’s second win against the Netherlands in 10 attempts.

It was also the first time India were playing the Olympic champions since losing 5-1 at Tokyo 2020. However, with no member of that Dutch Olympic gold medal-winning team playing on Friday, India pounced on the opportunity.

The Netherlands set the pace early on in the match with three penalty corners inside the first six minutes, but the Indian captain and goalkeeper Savita Punia ensured none of them went past her.

Relying on the counter-attack, India got the opening goal against the run of play in the 10th minute through a penalty corner. The Dutch goalkeeper initially kept the ball out but Navneet set up Neha with a pass inside the D which was neatly converted.

The hosts grew in confidence as the match progressed. Despite having fewer circle penetrations and shots on goal compared to the Netherlands, India were more clinical in the midfield and improved their lead through Sonika in the 27th minute.

It was the first time since the Rio Olympics that the Dutch side conceded more than one goal.

The scoreboard read 2-0 at half time with India dominating 59 per cent of the possession.

The third quarter saw the world champions commit more players forward and reaped rewards for it in the 39th minute.

Savita Punia saved a penalty corner but the Dutch were awarded a penalty stroke after the ball heading to the goal hit Monika. Jansen Yibbi converted for the Netherlands to set up an intriguing final 15 minutes of play.

The Netherlands, with regular incursions into the Indian D, looked certain to equalise in the final quarter but were fended off by an equally strong Indian defence.

Although the young Dutch side showed flashes of brilliance, India were clinical in the final five minutes to take home the crucial three points with a rare win over the Netherlands.

India will play the Netherlands in their second match at the same venue on Saturday.


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