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India, Azerbaijan draw to make 4-nation hockey final
Y Sarangi | December 04, 2007 21:17 IST
Last Updated: December 04, 2007 22:48 IST
India staged a strong fightback to hold Azerbaijan to a 1-1 draw in their last round-robin outing and set up a title clash with the same opponents in the Lal Bahadur Shastri four-nation women's hockey tournament at the Shivaji stadium in New Delhi on Tuesday.
The Indians conceded the lead for the third match in a row as Mi Kyong Aliyeva converted a penalty-corner in the 15th minute, but Ritu Rani shot home off after an impressive move in the 61st minute to earn a point for the hosts.
With two wins and a draw, Azerbaijan top the tally with seven points, while India (5 points) are second with two draws and a victory.
The two teams will lock horns again in the final on Wednesday.
It was again a story of missed chances for India in the beginning, as they looked tentative in finishing and frittered away two chances, including a penalty-corner.
Azerbaijan went up, making best use of their first penalty-corner. Aliyeva hit home in style to put India under pressure as the hosts needed a draw to confirm a final berth.
The Indian girls then showed better coordination to unleash a series of attacks. Skipper Mamta Kharab's deflection off a free hit went over the post and later Saba Anjum could not connect a Suman Bala shot off the second penalty-corner.
After the break, the script did not go according to India's plan as Mamta's precise pass into the striking circle could not be turned in by Anjum.
Then followed a series of attacks and counter-attacks as the Indians took control over the proceedings. The hosts gained two more penalty-corners but Azerbaijan custodian Yu Jin Avdonima made some spectacular saves to thwart the home team.
India finally drew level when Suman Bala provided an immaculate pass to Anjum on the right and the experienced winger traded a few passes with Ritu Rani before the latter sounded the board to leave the fans in a celebratory mood.
India did not sit back and defend, but instead adapted the strategy that attack was the best form of defence.
They continued with their raids and earned another penalty-corner. Mamta launched a powerful shot at goal, but it was foiled by Avdonima, who was adjudged the player of the match.
After the game, Mamta said India could have won the match but for the missed chances.
"We played properly today. I am satisfied that every player gave her best. But we missed many chances. Our finishing was poor. We will watch their video and will come out with better plans tomorrow," she said.
The ace striker, who played as a withdrawn forward, said the strategy paid off for her team.
"I have already played in this position during the Asia Cup. The idea was to block their centre-half," she said.
While lauding the rival goalkeeper's effort, India coach G S Bhangu said his strikers needed to pull up their socks for the final.
"Their goalkeeper did very well, she made some unexpected saves. At the same time, our forwards tried to hit the circle balls from stationary positions, which they need to change," he said.
Acknowledging that India played better, Azerbaijan coach and former Pakistan captain Tahir Zaman said his side would come out hard at the hosts in the summit clash.
"We were not well prepared for today's match. India played better. But we will come out with improved strategies for the final," said Tahir, who had earlier predicted an India-Azerbaijan final.
In the other match of the day, Italy [Images] notched a 1-0 win over Malaysia. Daniela Possali scored the lone goal in the eighth minute. She was declared player of the match.
On Wednesday the teams will meet each other again in the battle for the third slot.