|Indian junior women’s hockey players, at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, in New Delhi, on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi: The bronze-medal-winning Indian junior women’s hockey team on Tuesday returned home amid fanfare and celebrations after scripting history at the seventh Junior World Cup in Monchengladbach, Germany.
The Indian eves outplayed England 3-2 in a penalty shootout in the bronze medal play-off match on Sunday to finish on the podium — their best-ever showing in the marquee event.
Interestingly, the Indian girls had never made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup before this. India captain Sushila Chanu said the entire team was delighted to have made the country proud.
“We’re very happy with what we have achieved. There was pressure on us in the bronze medal match but we were confident of winning a medal,” she said soon after landing here.
Rani Rampal, who was one of the star performers, scoring six goals, including one in regulation time in the bronze medal play-off tie as well as two later in the penalty shootout, said this victory has proved that “hockey is still alive in India”.
“It is the biggest win of my career because for us it is equivalent to World Cup. We have never qualified for the Olympics so this win has huge significance for Indian women’s hockey,” said Rani, who was also adjudged the player of the tournament.
“It is a historic win. We are now confident of beating top teams of the world. This win has also reinstated confidence among hockey lovers, fans and players that hockey is still alive in India,” added the striker.
As many as 12 players of India’s junior World Cup team were part of the senior side that finished a poor seventh in the FIH Hockey World League Round 3 in Rotterdam in June.
“Undoubtedly, our experience of playing in the senior side has helped us immensely in the Junior World Cup,” Rani said.
Contrary to the final result, the Indian eves did not start their World Cup campaign on a perfect note as they were thrashed 1-6 by Australia, who eventually finished sixth, in their opening encounter. But the Sushila Chanu-led side showed great fighting spirit to forge a comeback into the tournament by beating New Zealand 2-0 in their second game before demolishing minnows Russia 10-1 in a must-win final group game.
India then defeated Spain 4-2 in the quarter finals before losing 0-3 to eventual champions, The Netherlands in their semi-final duel.
Chief coach Neil Hawgood hoped that the historic feat will inspire the senior men’s team to win the Asia Cup in Ipoh.
Hawgood said the success could not have come at a better time as it could inspire the senior men’s team.
“It should inspire the senior men’s team.
“Inspiration comes from different places and different people. If we can play a little part in inspiring them we will be more than happy,” the Australian said.Hawgood sees no reason why the eight-time Olympic champions can’t win the Asia Cup.
“They know what they have to do. They are good enough to win the Asia Cup,” Hawgood said.
For Hawgood it is back to business as he had already set his sights on his next target — the Asia Cup in Malaysia — which is also a qualifying tournament for the Women’s World Cup.
“The feeling has sunk in. It is a thing of the past as we have to get on quickly in the next couple of days. You can’t linger on it for too long because in four weeks time we have to play a senior World Cup qualifier — the Asia Cup in Malaysia,” the coach insisted. “My next target is to try and help the senior team qualify for the World Cup,” he added.