New Delhi: India defeated Russia by a solitary goal in their final round-robin match to top the standings in the women's competition and progress to the third round of Hero Hockey World League at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium on Sunday.
Rani Rampal scored the all-important winner for India in the 51st minute to emerge as the highest scorer in the round two of the Hockey World League.
Apart from India, Japan also qualified for the third round of the Hero Hockey World League, a qualifying tournament for next year's FIH World Cup in Hague, The Netherlands.
Even though both India and Japan finished on nine points from five games, the hosts topped the standings by virtue of more victories to their credit.
Placed eight places ahead of the Russians in the world rankings, the 12th ranked Indians started the match as favourites and expectedly were the better side on display in the entire 70-minute duration.
The Indians mounted pressure on the Russian goalmouth from the very beginning with repeated attacks but their forwards lacked precision inside the striking circle.
Russians, on the other hand, were more content in playing the waiting game and mostly relied on counter attacks.
The Indians got real good opportunities to surge ahead in the early stages of the match by earning two penalty corners but they wasted both.
The Russians too got two short corners in the opening half but just like their opponents they also did not capitalize on the opportunities as both the teams failed to break the deadlock in the first 35 minutes.
Just four minutes after the change of ends, India earned their third penalty corner but once again the hosts wasted the chance.
It took an opportunistic Rani to finally break the deadlock when she scored in the 51st minute with a fierce hit from top of the 'D' after latching on to a loose ball.
Russia soon got a chance to draw parity when they earned their third penalty corner but the script was no different for the visitors as they faltered yet again from the set piece.
Ritu got a golden opportunity to score her second goal of the match in the 62 minute from skipper Ritu Rani’s feed but the Indian striker's straight hit from top of the circle was easily blocked by Russian goalkeeper Maria Malakhova.
The Indians, however, had to go through some tense moments towards the final stages of the match. The hosts had to thank their goalkeeper Yogita Bali to help them keep a clean slate as she denied the Russians on at least two occasions in the final six minutes of the game.
Although India's chief coach Neil Hawgood was satisfied with his wards' performance in the tournament, he said there is still a lot of work to be done.
"Our goal was to qualify and winning the tournament is a bonus. We get ranking points, which is good for the girls. But we still have a long way to go, the girls need to learn how to win tournaments," the Australian said.
Meanwhile, in earlier matches of the women's competition today, Kazakhstan defeated Fiji 4-0, while Japan beat third-placed Malaysia by an identical margin.
Story first published on: Sunday, 24 February 2013 21:13 IST